Tag Archives: Mélenchon

French Politics after the Parliamentary Elections

Last Sunday, June 17, the French—well, some of them (voter abstention was unusually high)—went to the polls for the fourth time in 2012, bringing the year’s election season (two rounds for president and another two for the parliament’s lower house) to a close. As a result, France has a new president, a new government, and a new National Assembly. Now that the campaigning is over, are there any general conclusions to be drawn about the 2012 cycle? Americans like to glean election results for signs of “realignments.” Do France’s elections over the past two months show evidence of shifting political tides?

In many ways, the French political landscape looks remarkably stable: this year’s elections were, for the most part, classic left-right contests. If anything, it could be argued that France’s famously fragmented political spectrum has become streamlined, evolving towards an almost “Anglo-Saxon” system of bipolarization. Yet this is, I think, somewhat misleading. The 2012 elections have occurred in the midst of a major international crisis (the Eurozone meltdown and the prospect of a new recessionary dip) that has weakened the French economy, shaken its political class, and unsettled the country’s already tenuous sense of national identity. The left-right confrontation that prevailed in this year’s elections may look conventional, but in light of the circumstances, this familiarity is misleading: this traditional cleavage has played itself out in a context of considerable ideological uncertainty and partisan reconfiguration. Continue reading

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The First Round: The Ten Candidates

The first round of the 2012 French presidential election takes place on April 22. The following is Sister Republic’s run-down of the ten candidates on the ballot:

Nicolas Sarkozy

Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, UMP)

It has been a strange five years: the man regarded as unquestionably the most talented French politician of his generation has become one of the least popular and, perhaps, worst presidents of the Fifth Republic. Nicolas Sarkozy, who used to say that he dreamed of being president while shaving in the morning, is struggling for his political survival. He risks becoming the first incumbent since Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1981 to be denied a second term (a point that Giscard famously rubbed in, with wonderful passive aggressiveness, by letting the camera dwell on his empty chair for the entire duration of the Marseillaise at the end of his farewell speech).

Sarkozy, renowned for the nervous energy he brings to every endeavor, does have a record to run on (thanks in no small part to his competent and self-effacing prime minister, François Fillon). In 2007, he introduced measures to minimize the impact of public sector strikes on the French population. He implemented a controversial pension reform, which meant that most French people not facing immanent retirement will have to work longer. He has, like all Fifth Republic presidents, made foreign policy a priority. He was critical in securing Western military intervention on behalf of the Libyan rebellion; he has taken a hawkish stance on Iran; and he reintegrated France into NATO’s integrated command. Most importantly, he has played a critical role in the euro crisis, negotiating the Greek bailout and crafting policies to staunch the risk of future defaults. In this context, he found a crucial ally in German chancellor Angela Merkel, though he has often placed himself to the left of her draconian fiscal conservatism. Continue reading