Saturday, September 18

France looks to the presidential elections with Anne Hidalgo in contention for the leadership of the opposition to Macron

At the Paris Saint-Lazare station during rush hour, activists – including a public official from a government ministry and a former climate change protester – campaign in support of an unusual candidate for the French presidency.

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His chosen one, Sandrine Rousseau, is a reference of the French #MeToo movement against sexual violence, economist and university vice-chancellor and promises a new form of “punk ecology”.

“People want change, they don’t want the same old faces,” says Camille Borgetto, a French woman in her 40s, after seeing polls that show that in the second round of elections in April the centrist Emmanuel Macron will face the far-right Marine Le Pen, as in the last elections.

This month France enters its tense pre-election season to choose the final candidates for the presidency. Rousseau, who defines himself as an “ecofeminist”, is competing in the Los Verdes primary elections, open to all voters, including foreign residents, who have registered before Sunday. In other groups, the political row could drag on throughout the fall, especially in Nicolas Sarkozy’s traditional right-wing party, The Republicans, who believe they can win the presidency but have not chosen their candidate.

Macron will not announce his candidacy for a second term until early next year. But his approval rating has risen this summer thanks to his handling of the last stage of the COVID-19 crisis, during which he brought the vaccination rate to the highest levels in Europe after introducing the vaccination passport, a despite the small but persistent protests in the streets every Saturday.

Meanwhile, Le Pen formally gave up command of the far-right party, Agrupación Nacional, to his “number two”, the young Jordan Bardella, to dedicate himself completely to the race for the elections. Last week he presented an advance of his manifesto, in which he proposes to nationalize the highways so that drivers pay less in tolls, as well as to privatize the national radio television to end the payment of television licenses – a proposal designed to attract voters who they do not trust the media – and limit who can apply for French nationality.

The challenge of the left is to make use of the interests of the voters. Climate change is one of the main concerns of the French electorate but despite the growth of the vote for the Greens in urban areas and its victory in the cities of Lyon, Strasbourg and Bordeaux last year, the party did not win any of the regional elections this year. His highest-ranking candidate in the primaries, Yannick Jadot, a member of the European Parliament, is around 10% for the presidential elections, according to polls.

The candidate born in Spain

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, officially announced this weekend that she will compete to be the candidate of the Socialist Party.

Hidalgo uses her personal history to present herself as close to people, in contrast to Macron’s haughty image. He was born in Spain and came to France at the age of two, where he grew up in social housing near Lyon and obtained French citizenship in his teens. He says he wants to “pacify” the political debate in a society marked by yellow vest protests and polarization.

In his announcement, Hidalgo mentioned his father, a worker in the Cadiz shipyards, his mother, a seamstress, and his grandfather, sentenced to death by a Francoist military court, who transmitted to his son “love for France.”

Hidalgo, who has been in charge of the Paris City Council since 2014, said she was concerned about her adopted country: “The republican model is disintegrating and with it the protections that it has built throughout our history,” he said. In his opinion, freedoms are reduced, injustices increase and the country “is divided into hostile groups, into separate communities, into factions that express their bitterness and anger, sometimes with so much violence.”

“What is perceived is that she is beginning to talk about income, people’s daily affairs, the republican concept of France, social justice and social mobility. How many generations does a worker’s child need to win? more than his parents? “says Michel Gelly-Perbellini, a socialist activist in Paris. “I think that’s something that matters to people in France, not just Islam and the security issues that flood the TV channels.”

Hidalgo’s candidacy will be confirmed after an internal election after the congress scheduled for next weekend. But she faces the obstacle of the divided left. This month, a IPSOS survey it placed her in fifth place with 9%, behind possible Green Party candidate Jadot with 10% and with leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon getting 8%. There will also be a candidate from the Communist Party, former socialist minister Arnaud Montebourg.

There is no “helpful vote” on the left

“The problem today on the French left is that there is no dominant party,” says Rémi Lefebvre, professor of political science at the University of Lille. “There is not one party that has stood out from the rest to become the ‘useful vote’ of the left.”

Like the Socialists, the Republicans did well in the June regional elections, but the record level of abstention of more than 65% makes it impossible to predict whether those parties will be able to successfully return to the presidential level.

“The paradox is that the traditional left and right parties have done well in regional elections, but have found no cohesion at the national level,” says Lefebvre. “There is a gap between local political life and national political life. The parties of Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are very weak locally, but they are the ones with a chance of reaching the end of the presidential race. ”

Valérie Pécresse, former Budget Minister during the Sarkozy government and president of the wealthy region bordering Paris, Île-de-France, is the favorite to win any of the Republican primaries, well ahead of former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier . Pécresse has defined herself as “two-thirds Angela Merkel and one-third Margaret Thatcher,” which she says means being firm and focusing on the economy while forging consensus. Another candidate, Xavier Bertrand, head of the Hauts-de-France region in the northeast of the country, has started his own presidential campaign and is doing well in the polls, but is refusing to participate in the primaries. The resolution could extend throughout the fall and winter.

The journalist and figure of television talk shows, Eric Zemmour, could also launch his presidential candidacy this fall. Considered the most famous far-right ideologue in France, and with criminal charges for hate speech, he obtains between 5 and 7 points in the polls. It could take votes from both the traditional right and the far right Le Pen.

Without the final lineup of candidates, Macron remains the current favorite in the polls. It has clung to its strong voter base from the last election, which is crucial to the first round of a presidential campaign.

Adrien Broche, a political consultant for pollster Viavoice, says this month’s research shows that Macron scores well on credibility and the ability to lead France through a crisis, but not so good on personal connection with ordinary people. “Technical ability is his strength; his weakness is closeness to the French and their concerns. That is where the opposition is expected to challenge him,” he says.

Translation by Julián Cnochaert.

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