Having narrowly opted for a Socialist president, which way will French voters swing on June 10th?
The presidential elections in France were, as usual, a battle between the Left and the Right; as represented by Nicholas Sarkozy and François Hollande. Further out on the political margins, there were two other candidates who ended up scoring the next highest points in the presidential race.
At the extreme right end of the political spectrum is Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National. She managed to win a very significant 17.9% of the vote in the first round of the election. At the extreme left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon managed to persuade 11.1% of the French voting public to put their trust in him.
Now it’s the turn of the legislative elections that are due to take place over two weekends starting in four weeks time. If the presidential vote showed us an image of a France divided politically, it will be interesting to see just how divided public opinion really is when the poll for the National Assembly is played out.
As the political battles take place in 577 constituencies around the country (including 22 in what are termed “overseas departments”), one constituency in the north of the country will be watched with acute interest.
In the north-eastern commune of Hénin-Beaumont in the Pas-de-Calais department, Jean-Luc Mélenchon will be taking on Le Pen in her fiefdom where she has been regional councillor since 1998 and MEP since 2004.
In this, Mélenchon is hoping to prevent Le Pen getting to the National Assembly. He is reasonably confident of doing so, having performed so well in the presidential elections – indeed considerably better than many would have expected him to do, seemingly reigniting the French far-left that was last seen in government in the form of communist ministers back in the early 1980s.
But a number of political commentators in France suspect that it’s Le Pen who has the ear of today’s working class and not her communist opposite number. In a time of confusing economic crises, rising unemployment and uncertainty about where France and Europe are actually going, someone like Le Pen, it is felt, can capture the imagination of the disenfranchised with her brand of simple solutions: these involve drastic cuts in immigration numbers as well as drawing clear lines when it comes to traditional values (e.g. she unambiguously opposes same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia).“The language he (Mélenchon) used during the presidential campaign can be compared to some of the historical speeches associated with the 3rd Republic (i.e. pre-war France),” says renowned political analyst and author Janine Mossuz-Lavau. “However, it was not necessarily heard by those in living a precarious economic existence; those 8 million French citizens who live on the margins of poverty with a monthly income of less than €954. And I’m not sure that those people – who aren’t wondering how they’ll finish the month but rather how they’ll start it – are going to be attuned to listening to a speech sprung from history, ideology and theory.”
For Mélenchon, an even more sobering set of statistics to consider might be those of France’s leading pollsters TNS Soffres. According to their analysis of voting patterns in the presidential elections, 35% of workers voted for Marine Le Pen, ahead of 25% who voted for socialist François Hollande. Then comes centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy at 15%, with the presumed champion of the working class Mélenchon only getting 11% of their vote.
In these topsy-turvy straightened times, it would appear that the less well-off want a straight-talking person of action who’ll take no nonsense from anyone while it’s others who have time to think that vote for left-wing ideology. Sounds historically familiar? In any case, all will be revealed when the first round of voting kicks on June 10th, with the second decisive round taking place on the 17th.