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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Reasons not to stifle a yawn after the first round of the French parliamentary elections

Well that was an interesting weekend politically-speaking after the French went to the polls in the first round of the parliamentary elections, wasn't it?


Oh all right then - predictable and tedious perhaps although it threw up a few fascinating results here and there.

And let's face it, TV and radio did their best to make a show of it, clearing their schedules and inviting all the usual suspects to comment and analyse.

Perhaps it wasn't quite the "triumph" for the Socialist party as suggested by an early headline on the BBC (thankfully it was changed to reflect better the actual outcome with a more measured "Socialists and allies win first round") but it was at least a promise of a reasonable working majority - either with or without Leftist partners after the second round of voting next Sunday.

In reality the biggest winner on the day was, as pointed out by many political pundits, the abstention rate.

Only 57.23 per cent of the country's 46 million voters turned out to cast their ballots. Or put another way, 42.77 per cent couldn't be bothered - a record for the fifth republic.

And although it might not seem so important, with France's complicated process of calculating which candidates can make it through to the second round, a number of them didn't make the required cut - even though at first sight they scored pretty high on the day.

Most of the government ministers who took the risk of standing - remember they didn't have to, but if they did and lost then they would be out on their ears - did pretty well.

Six of the 25 who stood were elected in the first round, among them big hitters prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and foreign minister Laurent Fabius.

A clutch of others should have no problem in the second-round run off including those considered to have taken the biggest risk: the minister of agriculture Stéphane Le Foll, and the culture minister, Aurélie Filippetti.

There could be one casualty after the second round though, in the shape of the minister for the disabled, Marie-Arlette Carlotti.

Some "personalities" from across the political spectrum came a cropper, most notably perhaps the former junior minister for human rights and later when that post was scrapped,  junior minister for sport, Rama Yade.

She didn't make it through to the second round in the constituency in which she was standing in the suburbs of Paris.

Yade, who was one of the three high-profile ethnic minority figures in Nicolas Sarkozy's first government now finds herself in a political wilderness of sorts, but at 36 is young and certainly talented enough to bounce back quickly.

The same cannot be said for François Bayrou. The leader of the Centrist party Mouvement démocrate (MoDem) has been a member of parliament for "his" Pyrénées-Atlantiques constituency (described as his "fiefdom" - so very typical of French politics) for donkeys years (well since 1988, when it was created).

But the multi-presidential candidate (three times so far) is in serious danger of losing out to the Socialist party's Nathalie Chabanne in the second round. Clearly Bayrou's gesture of openly declaring he would vote for François Hollande in the presidential run-off against Sarkozy is having its impact - and not in the way Bayrou would want.

And then there's Seggers - or Ségolène Royal if you wish - parachuted into a safe seat only to find herself up against another (more local) Socialist, Olivier Falorni.

He ignored party instructions not to stand and was summarily suspended. But he finished just behind Seggers in the first round, is continuing his prolonged fit of pique (in protest at the practice of candidates being parachuted) and could well cost Royal a seat.

The Socialist party's "Big Guns" including - figure this - Martine Aubrey - are rallying behind Seggers, proving there's nowt so peculiar or erratic as a politician.

It's a similar story for former interior minister Claude Guéant.

He too has been parachuted into a safe seat - this time in the Paris suburbs - for the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP).

Just like Seggers, Guéant finds himself up against someone (Thierry Solère) from his own party who is locally-based and who's refusing to follow orders.

Finally in this briefest of brief looks (which is decidedly longer than intended) there was the much-publicised but ultimately flat duel between the two extremes in a constituency in the north of France: far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon taking on far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

The two had of course traded verbal punches - or not, as one refused to debate directly with the other - in this year's presidential campaign for which they were both candidates.

On Sunday, Mélenchon failed to make it through to the second round, blaming everyone but himself in the process while Le Pen finished first and is still in with a shout (as far as she's concerned) of winning the seat.

Should she pull it off, she might not be the only member of the Front National - or the only Le Pen come to that - in the new parliament.

Gilbert Collard in one of the constituencies in the département of Gard in southern France, is well-placed to win his seat, especially if his UMP opponent, Etienne Mourrut pulls out of the three-way race (with the Socialist party's Katy Guyot).

Mourrut is apparently "hesitating".

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (screenshot France 2 news)
No hesitation though for the Socialist party in one of the constituencies in the neighbouring département of Vaucluse.

It has withdrawn its candidate from the second round to allow the UMP contender to go head-to-head with a certain Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, yes the 22-year-old niece of Marine and granddaughter of Jean-Marie.

Maybe the most interesting outcome of the first round though is the possibility that the Front National stands a real chance of winning seats.

There might not be nearly as many as there were in 1986 when the party won 35 seats under the (thankfully) short-lived system of proportional representation introduced (for very political reasons of course) for the parliamentary elections by the then-president François Mitterrand.

But winning a handful of seats under the French system of first past the post would give the Front National the political credibility it craves and demands.

Little wonder then that Le Pen (Marine that is) is targeting some high profile UMP candidates by urging FN voters to "go Socialist" in a manner of speaking.

Perhaps though an event in that very constituency where  Mélenchon and Le Pen did battle last weekend best reflects the first round results or at least how many French might feel about them.

It was the fate of one of the other candidates - there were 14 of them - standing in that constituency, Daniel Cucchiaro.

An independent ecologist (always a bad sign),  Cucchiaro finished last; no shame in that as someone has to.

It was the style in which he did it though - winning zero per cent of ballots cast because...well...nobody had voted for him.

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