Redrawing the map of French politics

By Samuel Sigere
14 June 2017
France France
Macron's La République en Marche looks set to muddle the usual dividing lines of French politics in the legislative elections
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Until Sunday 11 June 11 2017, there were a few truisms in French parliamentary elections. Good years, bad years, the Parti socialist (PS) and its allies would be set to win their historical strongholds of the north of France (Nord Pas de Calais), centre west of France (Limousin), West Pyrénées and north east (Lorraine), and Les Républicains and its allies, their strongholds of Cote d’Azur, Alsace, Upper Alps, Upper Campagne and Auvergny. But this election, it seems, even the firmest of the traditional parties’ strongholds are in play.

In its first legislative election, the results of the first round indicate that La Republique en Marche (LRM) is set to redraw the electoral map of France at the expense of the traditional parties. Macron’s centrist party won 32% of the votes and 525 of its candidates have been selected for the second round on Sunday 18 June.

Source: French Interior Ministry

 

North of France

The historical stronghold of the socialist party has fallen with only one socialist candidate qualified for the second round against against a Front National (FN) candidate. The far-right party performed well in the north of France. Of the party’s 121 candidates who qualified for the second round across France, the 20 candidates who finished first in their constituencies were mostly located in the North Pas de Calais.

Marine LePen, the candidate defeated by Macron in the second round of the presidential election, won the first round in her constituency with 46% of the vote, well ahead of her second round opponents from LRM. LePen therefore has a strong chance of winning her seat on 18 June and making her entry to the French parliament.

That said, the far right party, set to win between three and ten seats in parliament, claimed its worst score in seven years with 13% of the vote and four million fewer votes than in the first round of the presidential election. This setback seems to confirm the loss of momentum for the far-right party since the lost second round of the presidential election.

West of France

Macron’s centrist party performed very well in the west of France, increasing its vote share in Gironde, Britany and Aquitaine. In Britany, Richard Ferrand, minister for territorial cohesion, involved in a scandal with his partner finished first in his constituency with around 34% of the vote, and is set to win a face-off with the Republicans’ candidate in the second round. Such a victory would permit him to keep his ministerial position, since Macron warned before the election that any defeated ministers would have to resign.

Other important ministers are set to keep their jobs, such as Bruno LeMaire, the economy minister and former Republican party member, who won the first round with 45% of the vote and is set to defeat his far-right opponent in the second round. However Annick Girardin, minister for overseas territories, qualified for the second round but will face a tough opposition in her constituency of Saint Pierre et Miquelon, an island off the Canadian coast.

If a good result for LRM is confirmed in the second round, the centrist party is set to win between 400 and 455 seats in the assembly, a super majority never before seen in the France modern political history.

LRM’s surge in the west of the country was achieved at the expense of the Socialists, which lost its stronghold of Limousin, home of former president Hollande’s erstwhile constituency.

Overall it was a disastrous result for the socialists, who received 10% of the vote, their lowest share in a legislative election since the party’s inception. The party is set to lose its majority in parliament, keeping only 15-40 seats. The party lost many of its leaders, such as Benoît Hamon, the defeated presidential hopeful, who failed to qualify for the second round in his constituency in the Parisian suburbs.

Some notable personalities are set to keep their seats, such as Stéphane Le Foll, the former agriculture minister, who is likely to hold out against his right-wing opponent. Manuel Valls, the former prime minister, qualified for the second round in his constituency with 26% of the votes and will face a candidate from the far-left party, France Insoumise. Despite predictions of a tight race, Valls should ultimately keep his seat in the second round.

South of France

LRM and its allies, the Democratic Movement (MoDem), performed strongly in the Pyrénées area, finishing first against mostly socialist and far-left candidates.

For its first legislative election, La France Insoumise (FI) performed well, with 69 candidates qualified for the second round nationally, and is set to win between 10 and 23 seats in parliament. In Marseille, Mélenchon, the defeated presidential candidate, won the first round in his constituency with 35% of votes, well head of the centrist candidate who he should defeat in the second round.

With 13% of the vote, the far-left party finished ahead of the socialist party in terms of vote share and thus consolidates its position as the largest official leftwing opposition in the country, to Mélenchon’s great pleasure.

Elsewhere in the south, the Front National came first in its traditional stronghold of Bouche du Rhone and du Gard between Montpellier and Marseille and in the Languedoc.

East France

The right-wing Republicans’ strongholds of Alsace, Upper Alps and Auvergny withstood the surge of the centrist insurgency well. The party managed to limit the damage with about 22% of the votes and is set to win between 70 and 130 seats in parliament. It all depends on how well the party perform in the Provence area where many of its candidates are in tight races with centrist candidates. Despite assuredly being the second biggest group in the legislative assembly, and the official opposition, the results dashed the hopes of the right-wing party’s leadership to force Macron into a coalition, with François Baroin as prime minister. The setback for this traditional party is not as violent as for the socialists but it does raise questions about the future of the Republicans.

Abstentions and Macron’s mandate

Indisputably, beside Macron’s party’s surge, the other memorable takeaway from this election is the high level of abstention, at 51%. For the first time in France’s recent political history, just 49% French people went to vote. If the rate of abstention stays the same across the second round of the election, it will put into doubt the mandate of Macron’s majority. LRM’s potential super majority in parliament has the capacity to asphyxiate political debate in France and increase the French people’s disenchantment with politics. So, as Macron’s centrist party is set to redraw the election map of France next Sunday, it will also fall onto them to invigorate the democratic process in France.

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