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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Resounding victory for France's Socialist party in parliamentary elections? Well yes - and no

The headlines in France on Monday said it all, didn't they?

The Socialist party had won a healthy majority in the parliamentary elections and are now in a position to go it alone without the "help" of Europe Écologie - Les Verts (EELV) - let's just call them the Greens (not the cabbage variety) for simplicity - or the Front de Gauche coalition of far-left parties.

Whoopee!

Source TF1

Some of those long-awaited and potentially far-reaching social policies can now be introduced although the jury is most definitely out on the capacity of this (or any) government to be able to deal with the Eurozone problems, France's debt and commitment to balancing the books.

Don't be surprised to discover the government forced to introduce spending cuts and tax increases along the lines of those centrist François Bayrou outlined in his presidential campaign but nobody else really wanted to discuss because apparently the French didn't want to hear about them.

The weekend's results were a resounding "yes" to what the Socialist party has to offer and a "strong vote of confidence in the new president," as far as finance minister Pierre Moscovici was concerned.

Really?

A "strong vote of confidence" and a resounding "yes" when only 55.41 per cent of those registered to vote in the second round actually bothered to do so.

Yep, once again the abstention rate - logically, if you do the maths - 44.59 per cent was surely a major player in the outcome.

The only "resounding" feature of the result was that a majority government was elected by a minority of the French.

(If you want to do the number crunching, take a look at the interior ministry's official figures for both rounds of voting.)

And therein lies part of the problem; the two-round run-off voting system in France which has meant that most voters have been asked to make their way to the polling stations four times in the past couple of months.

They turned out in force for the two rounds of the presidential elections in April/May (79.48 and 80.35 respectively) so there's surely not argument about the French not being interested in politics or the future of their country.

But the number of times they've been called to the ballot boxes recently must have led to a certain feeling voter fatigue.

That combined with the perception maybe that the parliamentary elections were a "done deal" with the Socialist party virtually guaranteed to have some sort of majority, probably put many off voting even if they had felt so inclined.

And not forgetting that the two-round system of voting will have meant for many that they were left with an option for plumping for one of two (sometimes three) candidates who were - well quite frankly - not of their choosing.

But help is at hand in a manner of speaking.

The government (although undoubtedly happy with a healthy majority) realises there's a problem and is apparently ready to consider revamping the electoral calendar (and there's even talk - heaven forbid - of re-introducing proportional representation).

The prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has said that shortening the time between the presidential and parliamentary elections could be one solution and there's even the possibility of holding them both on the same day.

"We'll give ourselves the time necessary to think about it," he said on national radio at the weekend. "The next (presidential and parliamentary) elections aren't until 2017.

In the meantime of course the French will still be asked to trot down to the polling stations in the country's seemingly never-ending cycle of elections, although they'll be given some respite for at least a couple of years.

And then it'll be all systems go.

The regional and cantonal elections have been combined to become l'élection des conseillers territoriaux and are scheduled for the same year as the municipal elections - 2014.

And later  the same year there'll be elections to the European parliament.



Enjoy the calm while it lasts.

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