Frances divided left looks set for defeat in first-round elections

Posted on Mar 19 2017 - 7:38am by dianejmoss
Frances divided left looks set for defeat in first-round elections

The movements failure to unite behind one candidate will be costly

This weekend is billed as the final round in the battle of Frances bitterly, almost fatally, divided left.

Two big weekend rallies pit Benot Hamon versus Jean-Luc Mlenchon: the socialist left versus the hard left, a battle that seems set to ensure that neither will win the ultimate struggle to become the countrys next leader.

Mlenchons La France Insoumise (Unbowed France) movement marched on the Bastille yesterday; Hamon, the Parti Socialiste (PS) candidate, will hold a rally today at the AccorHotels arena at Bercy, not far from his former office when a junior economy minister in Franois Hollandes Socialist government, one he ultimately refused to support.

The timing of the two events, seen as an unfortunate coincidence rather than a deliberate provocation, comes when both candidates are struggling to be heard above the cacophony of political scandals that have nothing to do with them but have drowned out the debate.

For Hamon, it may be a last chance to breathe life into an ailing campaign after further damaging defections from his own camp.

The French Socialist party presidential candidate, Benot Hamon. Photograph: SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

Since Hamon won the Socialist party primary elections in January, a succession of leading Socialist ministers have thrown their weight behind rival Emmanuel Macron, who refused to take part in the PS primary process. The latest, Manuel Valls, the former prime minister and an early favourite to win the Socialist party primaries before his surprise defeat by Hamon, last week admitted that he could not support the partys official candidate, despite previously promising to do so.

At a closed-door meeting of 300 supporters last week, Valls accused Hamon of drifting into factionalism. If the left is incapable of being responsible, it will be consigned to history, he told the audience.

Hamons response was immediate. I dont feel betrayed myself, but perhaps those who voted for me in the primaries do. To respect ones word is important.

Vallss decision comes on the heels of former Paris mayor Bertrand Delanos, and the defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drians, declarations of support for Macron as the best hope of defeating [Marine] Le Pen. On Hamons side, the current Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, and Socialist ministers past and present Christiane Taubira, Martine Aubry, Vincent Peillon, Arnaud Montebourg, Aurlie Filippetti and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, as well as Jean-Christophe Cambadlis, have declared their support for the official candidate.

Hollande is publicly reserving judgment, but is believed to privately support Macron.

Founder of the hard-left La France Insoumise movement and presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mlenchon. Photograph: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

The PS defections have effectively divided the party in two threatening its future, whatever the outcome of the election and split the French left into three distinct camps represented by Hamon, Mlenchon and Macron.

Hamons response last week was an attempt to unite a few more Socialist comrades behind him by enriching his anti-austerity programme to show it was not simply idealistic but possible and a real alternative to the threat from the far-right Front National.

In a 38-page pamphlet, he renewed his pledge to introduce a universal income and a job-creating investment programme, but also outlined a raft of new proposals. These included promising to encourage the production of goods in France, forcing companies that move manufacturing elsewhere to repay public subsidies, and to oppose the Canada-EU Ceta and Tafta free-trade treaties.

Next week Hamons advisers will hold a series of thematic briefings to outline the programme to journalists.

Shortly before Mlenchons rally on Saturday, Frances Constitutional Council released the official list of 11 candidates who will take part in the first round of the presidential elections on 23 April, following the deadline for names to be registered and accepted. This is one less than for the 2012 presidential election, won by Franois Hollande. The two candidates who attain the most votes in the first round will go through to a second vote two weeks later.

Tomorrow, all five principal presidential candidates, the far-right Marine Le Pen, Macron, hard-right Franois Fillon, Hamon and Mlenchon in order of poll popularity will take part in a TV debate on social, economic and international issues. We wont be there to look for the nits in the other candidates hair. Benot Hamon has presented his programme, but many French people just havent heard it, Mathieu Hanotin, Hamons campaign director, said last week.

In the coming weeks the Bercy arena will host some of the biggest names in music, including Ed Sheeran, Deep Purple, Bruno Mars and Phil Collins. Hamon, whose campaign speeches can and have run to the length of a pop concert, can only hope some of the venues showbiz glitz will rub off today. His campaign team are willing at least 15,000 people to turn up just a few thousand from full capacity, and say the aim will be to show that an ambitious left can raise its head.

It will be a robust discourse giving his vision of the republic and of France, Hanotin told Le Figaro, promising an emotional moment which will make the place vibrate.

Mlenchon was counting on as many as 100,000 supporters joining his march from Place de la Nation to Bastille. The date was chosen as a tribute to the anniversary of the start of the Commune de Paris, the radical socialist and revolutionary administration that ruled Paris for just over two months. The Commune refused to accept the authority of the French government, and was described by Karl Marx as an example of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

There may be nothing new about leftwingers falling out, but polls suggest uniting behind one candidate is the French lefts best hope of being in the second round of the presidential election. Remaining divided as it seems certain it will spells almost sure defeat.

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