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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Cantonal elections leave Sarkozy's centre-right UMP at sixes and sevens

Those ruddy cantonal elections at the weekend.

That's surely what the ruling centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) must be thinking right now.

Actually, given the mixed messages they've been sending out over the past couple of days, you would be hard-pushed to believe they were "thinking" at all.

Have they well and truly lost the plot? And what the heck is the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, playing at?

French electoral card (from Wikipedia)

On paper, the first round of the cantonal elections were hardly the most exciting; their purpose was to replace half the representatives to the general councils of France's 100 départements.

In other words they were supposed to be local elections.

Somehow though they were highjacked by the far-right Front National and its leader Marine Le Pen who campaigned on national issues and managed to score well, leaving and Sarkozy's governing centre-right party with something of a political headache.

Apart from the high abstention rate (more than 55 per cent) the most notable outcome was the FN's strong showing nationwide.

The party scored 15.18, behind UMP (17.07) and the Socialist party (25.04)

But the election isn't over.

As is always the case in France if there's no candidate achieving 50 per cent of the vote or more in the first round, there's a run-off between the top two (and sometimes three if it's a close thing) in the second round.

And that's what's creating problems for the UMP because, in a number of cantons, the party's candidates have been pushed out of the frame leaving the second round a straight head-to-head between the Socialist party and the FN.

What to do?

If it were to follow the example set in the 2002 presidential elections when Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie, faced Jacques Chirac (UMP) in the second round after finishing ahead of the Socialist party's Lionel Jospin in the first, there wouldn't be a problem and the party's supporters would know what to do.

UMP would tell them to throw their support behind the Socialist party just as Jospin had done the other way round in 2002.

But no. Sarkozy and the current leader of the UMP Jean-François Copé have decided on different tactics and the additional problem is that not everyone in the party - and especially some high ranking ministers - seems to agree.

First up Copé, who said after Sunday's results that UMP voters should decide for themselves what they thought would be best: the "ni-ni (neither Front National nor Socialist party" option.

"There's absolutely no question of any sort of alliance with the Front national, that's a trap that has been laid by the Socialist party in its accusations," he said.

"But we're also saying no systematic alliance with the Socialist party either because if we do that we fall into another trap set by the FN which says the two major parties are indistinguishable from one another.

"That's what Marine La Pen has been saying by using the slogan 'UMPS'."

Copé's strategy was one backed up by Sarzkoy when he called for a "Ni-ni (neither nor) vote". In other words for UMP supporters to vote for neither the FN nor the Socialist party.

But then the prime minister, François Fillon seemed to contradict them both by calling quite clearly for a vote against the FN.

"Where there is a duel between the Socialist Party and the National Front, we must first remember our values," he said.

And our values ​​are not those of the National Front. We must call our voters to make the choice of accountability in the management of local affairs."

In short, he was calling for UMP supporters to vote Socialist when necessary.

But after reportedly being rapped on the knuckles by Sarkozy and criticised by UMP parliamentarians, Fillon "revised" his position to fall in line with his boss - giving that "ni-ni" recommendation.

The problem is though that even if Fillon now appears to be "singing from the same hymn sheet" as his boss and the party leader, not all government ministers agree.

Valérie Pécresse (higher education), Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (environment) and Alain Juppé (foreign affairs) have all called recommended the "republican candidate" in FN-Socialist party duels; in other words to vote for the Socialist party candidate.

What a UMP mess!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My own experience of the "Cantonales elections": I live in a small village in Aveyron with my wife and children. We moved there a couple of months ago, and I have only met the mayor once, during the snow falls of December, when I asked whether the commune cleared the snow over the lane leading to my house. The mayor was very friendly, saying the surrounding communes had bought a "snow blade" to fix in front of a truck, but had yet to buy the truck. So there would be no snow removal for me this year. When I received the election papers a few weeks ago, I only recognized the mayor as one of the candidates - so when I showed up on Sunday in the city hall - I knew whom I was going to vote for. I was greeted by the mayor (acting as mayor, not as a candidate... is that legal?) and of course slipped my ballot with his name on it. Apparently he was elected with over 54% of the votes. All this to say, that in rural France, the dilemmas of the Parisian UMP party seem quite remote, and to be frank, nobody seems interested.

Jean, near Laguiole

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