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France: Sarkozy rejected in regional elections

[*Note: Check chart on right for final figures.]

By the executive committee of the New Anti-Capitalist Party

March 14, 2010  -- Paris -- Two major lessons emerge from the first round of the regional elections.

  • The magnitude of abstention by millions of youth, workers and the unemployed, who mostly wished to register their rejection of the political parties that have alternated in power and that are responsible for aggravating their conditions of life.

  • The vigor of the rejection of the right and President Nicholas Sarkozy's government -- accomplices of big investors and the richest classes, who have made the majority of the population pay the cost of the crisis and who are destroying public services and social gains -- fuelled the upsurge of the Socialist Party (PS) and Europe Écologie [Greens].

This rejection of the right allowed the PS and its allies, which have been governing 20 regions since 2004, not to be punished for their record.

Moreover, the campaign for the just completed first round was vitiated by the wave of disturbing racism from which the National Front (FN) greatly benefitted.

We thank the women and men who voted for the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) lists or the unity lists in which the NPA participated. Overall, our electoral results* are disappointing even though the results of some of our lists seem to be promising. We will analyse these facts and their causes in greater detail in coming days.

For next Sunday (March 21), we call on the voters to confirm and amplify the results of the first round by inflicting the greatest possible defeat on the lists supported by Sarkozy and [his right-wing Union for a Popular Movement] UMP.  Punishing the right is an absolute necessity, even though we think that the left-wing majorities to come will be no better defence against the politics of Sarkozy than they have been for the last several years. However, punishing the right in the elections will not be enough to block its politics.

Just like what's happening in Greece, under a socialist government, it is likely to get worse in coming weeks. Pay for their crisis?  No way!  Like the front of youth, workers, the unemployed and the retired in Greece, we must prepare for the third round, which is social!

The 23rd of March has to become the first stage of convergence of struggles for pensions, wages and the prohibition of layoffs. And it's around these demands we wish to build the broadest unity against the right, the bosses and the bankers.

[The original statement "Déclaration du NPA au soir du premier tour des régionales" was published on the NPA web site on 14 March 2010. Translation by MRZine's Yoshie Furuhashi.]

French regional elections see centre weaken

By Jim Jepps

March 15, 2010 -- The Daily (Maybe) -- On March 14, the French regional elections saw the ruling right wing UMP take a beating and the Socialist Party (PS) extend its already extensive reach across French regional governments. The elections shine a light on exactly how unpopular Sarkozy’s government has become.
The right were determined to make this election about national identity and Islam, and the vote was conducted in the context of proposed laws to ban the burka. While playing the race card backfired for Sarkozy the dangerous game that the right were playing stoked the fascist vote and saw the National Front (FN) resurrected, gaining 12%*.

The FN's campaign focused on the "danger" that Islam poses to France and, as Sarkozy has just found out, if you encourage people to be racists they will vote for the down-the-line racists.

The results had added significance for the FN as long-time leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is 81 and is expected to step down from the party's leadership soon. The regional elections were an opportunity for potential leaders to jockey for position and Le Pen's daughter, Marine, who is already an MEP, has emerged as the likely successor.

The election's Islamophobic rhetoric spilled over into direct action with dozens of pig-masked protesters raiding a restaurant last week for the "offense" of selling halal burgers. Commenting on Sarkozy’s tactics Greens leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit pointed to the FN rise and said, "Bravo Mr. Sarkozy, here's the result."
However the story was not one sided and the French left, which has not always been strong on these issues, were able to confront these racist ideas with mixed success. The New Anti-Capitalist Party ran a hijab-wearing candidate to national uproar and most parties of the left refused to compromise with the anti-Islam mood.

The Greens (Europe Écologie) ran a very clear anti-racist campaign and saw their vote skyrocket, leaving them as the nation's third party. It's clear that while French society is seeing a rise in racism, there is a powerful countertrend of anti-racism.

Martine Aubry, leader of the victorious Socialist Party, stressed that “the French sent a clear and strong message. They today expressed their refusal to see a divided France”. That may be overstating the case, but certainly Sarkozy’s poor performance is a real victory for the left.

The rise of Greens was not wholly unexpected -- as the Greens first won third place last year at the European elections -- but its impressive result of 13%*, including more than 20% in Paris, is a massive leap forward from the last regional elections six years ago in 2004 where the Greens polled just 2%*.

When the second round of voting takes place next Sunday, March 21, this puts the left in a formidable position because the Greens explicitly position themselves as a party of the left and take part in Socialist Party-led coalitions. Negotiations have already begun between the PS and the Greens for joint lists in the second round elections which will see unprecedented Green representation. This means that while the left won 20 of the 22 French regions last time they are in position to extend that already impressive hold on regional government.

However, one of the headlines of the election is the record low turnout, with over half the electorate refusing to cast their vote. A closer look at the Socialist Party support sees that it has had a successful night because its vote collapsed less spectacularly than Sarkozy’s vote rather than because of some revival in its fortunes.

The Socialist Party has been riven with splits and rows over the last few years that saw some leading members leave the party. Likewise Sarkozy's leadership has been consistently rocked by internal rows and disaffection –- including court cases and high profile walkouts. However, unlike the PS, Sarkozy has no potential coalition partners on the right with the FN adamant that it will not lend him support in the second round.

With the centre parties losing ground and the good results for the Greens and the FN it's clear that French society is becoming increasingly polarised, a pattern we've seen recently in a number of elections in Europe.
However, the parties of the far left, which stood on a number of unity tickets, did not significantly benefit from the collapse of the centre. The left vote was, as usual, split –- but this time between left unity coalitions. The New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), whose most recognisable figure Olivier Besancenot was the highest-polling far left candidate at the last presidential election, polled a disappointing 2%*.

Much of the press attention was focused on the fact that one NPA region selected a young female activist who wears the hijab. The party’s leadership were supportive of their candidate but there is no doubt that this was a controversial decision both inside and outside of the party.

The NPA were outshone by the “Face of the Left” (Front de gauche), a coalition between disaffected Socialist Party members, Communists and some smaller parties. It polled a more respectable 6.2%*, however both parties will no doubt be disappointed with the results.

What all this means for French politics is clear -– that the future is unclear. With racism on the rise and the FN renewal of fortunes, the threat of the far right is still very much present. However the right-wing government is unloved and faces opposition both at the ballot box and in the streets.

It's quite possible that this period could see the Socialist Party put its troubles behind it and go on to win the presidency at the next election, but nothing is certain both because of threats to their right and to their left.

Although those coalitions to the Socialist Party's left did not perform very well at this election, their vote did not collapse either and they may still be able to capitalise on the problems of the centre. Certainly the extraordinary rise of the Greens' vote shows that French voters are willing to look to alternatives and to oppose the growing tide of racism.

French elections – first thoughts

By Liam Mac Uaid

March 15, 2010 -- Mac Uaid -- French Sarkozy took a well heralded pummelling in the first round of the French regional elections and some of the lessons from France are likely to apply in the upcoming British polls.

A few things leap out from the raw figures. The first is that lots of people decided not to vote.

According to one poll cited in Libération 53.5% of voters abstained. The New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), which scored a modest 2%, suggests reasonably enough that it was young people, workers and the unemployed who stayed at home.

The second is the strength of the far right. The Front National won 11.7%* of the vote dispelling any fantasy that it's a spent force. The racist and Islamophobic undercurrent which ran throughout the pre-election period must have benefited Le Pen. On the other side of the coin, Europe Ecologie (EE) won 13.3%* making it the third-largest force after the UMP and the Socialist Party (PS).

The combined results of the anti-Sarkozy forces PS (30%*), EE (13%*), Front de gauche (6.2%*) and the NPA and LO’s combined 3.3%* tally up to a serious rejection of Sarkozy's project. However, the third lesson, which we can take from the NPA's relatively weak performance, is that offered a choice between an explicitly capitalist party and even a neoliberalised social-democratic party working-class voters will, in the first instance, return to social democracy rather than taking the more radical new option.

As Greece shows, having a social-democratic government offers very little protection at all when the International Monetary Fund and the European Union start demanding pension cuts, wage reductions and job losses. A lot of PS voters are heading for a hangover. The question then becomes one of offering a political expression for their inevitable disillusionment when the PS comes into office.

[Liam Mac Uaid is an editor of the British socialist newspaper, Socialist Resistance.]

Morning Star: Dissatisfied French voters deal slap to Sarkozy

March 15, 2010 -- Morning Star -- French voters have dealt President Nicolas Sarkozy and his conservative administration a resounding slap by favouring left-wing candidates in the first round of regional elections, according to official results.

With more than 96 per cent of votes counted, the opposition centre-left Socialist Party was frontrunner with around 30 per cent* of the vote.

Mr Sarkozy's Gaullist Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) was in second place with around 27 per cent*, while Europe Ecologie garnered 12.5 per cent* of the vote.

The far-right National Front took 11.5 per cent*.

The Left Front, which unites the French Communist Party, the Left Party and smaller groupings, won about six per cent*.

Together, candidates from the Socialist Party, Europe Ecology and the Left Front were just shy of 50 per cent* of the vote.

Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry described the result as "encouraging."

In casting their ballots, the French "wanted most of all to express their wish for a more just and stronger France", Ms Aubry said.

The Socialists, who already control 20 of the 22 regions of mainland France, have begun horse-trading with the Greens and the left in a bid to present unified slates of candidates in this Sunday's decisive second round.

The centre-left Socialists and their allies are now on track to score a grand slam on March 21 by winning every one of metropolitan France's 22 regions.

Though the campaign had focused on regional concerns such as roads and local jobs, the vote was seen by many as a referendum on Mr Sarkozy's sweeping pro-business reforms.

Voter turnout was at a record low of about 48 per cent, 10 points lower than in the last regional election six years ago.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon of the UMP insisted that the high abstention rate "does not permit us to draw any conclusions of national relevance" and stressed that "nothing has been decided for the second round".

But political analyst Roland Cayrol said: "The French people want to punish the governing powers. Members of the governing right attribute this score to the abstentions but, in reality, the success of the left is indisputable.".

Second round to the Socialist Party and allies

March 22, 2010 -- Le Monde reports: "The Left obtained 59% of the votes in six metropolitan regions where it dueled with the Right, according to TNS-Sofres/Logica. In 12 regions where there were triangle races joined by the National Front, the Socialist Party and its allies scored 49%, against 33.5% for the Right and 17.5% for the National Front" ("La gauche confirme son succès, l'Alsace reste à droite," 21 March 2010).  The Right held on to Alsace and captured Réunion.  The abstention rate is estimated to be between 49% and 49.5% this time, slightly lower than in the first round (53.6%), but much higher than in the second round of the 2004 regional elections (34.32%).

France: Elections a blow to Sarkozy

By Chris Latham

March 27, 2010 -- Green Left Weekly -- French voters have dealt a blow to right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy in the first and second rounds of voting in the French regional elections. The opposition Socialist Party (PS) expanded its control of regional presidencies to 23 of the 26 regions, based on a record voting percentage in the second round on March 21.

There were mixed results for parties to the left of the PS, and also a resurgence of the far-right National Front (FN). The elections have been marred by record-low voter turnout, with 46.5% and 51% of voters taking part in the two rounds.

During the election campaign, Sarkozy told his right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP): “It’s necessary to campaign on my record.”

This helped turn the regional elections into a referendum on his government’s policies since being elected in 2007.

The UMP-dominated Presidential Majority Lists received an average vote of 26.9%, down from 27.8% in the European elections and 33.73% in the last regional elections. As a result, the UMP lost control of Corsica and only managed to retain the conservative stronghold Alsace.

Far from giving him the ringing endorsement he wanted, the result is a rebuff to Sarkozy’s neoliberal agenda.

The PS vote achieved 29.48% in the first voting round on March 14. This was up markedly from the European elections, where it scored only 16.48%, but down from its score of 36.86% in the previous regional elections, when it ran on a ticket that included the French Communist Party (PCF).

In the second round, the PS established the Union of the Left lists. This included Europe Ecologie, which had experienced a major growth in support from 2.25-12.8%, and the Left Front. The Left Front is an electoral alliance mainly involving the PCF and the Left Party (PG — formed by former PS members in 2008).

The UdG achieved a national vote of 54.3%.

In Reunion, a French Indian Ocean colony where the Communist Party of Reunion received the highest vote in the first round, the PS stood its own candidate in the second. This allowed the Presidential Majority List to win the region.

The PS was a relative strengthening of its position in the regions, and also a realignment of the forces to its left. Europe Ecologie has replaced the PCF as the PS’ key electoral ally.

Far-right resurgence

The election also signalled the resurgence of the far-right FN. It was a significant force in French politics during the 1990s and in the early part of the past decade. FN leader Jean Marie Le Pen won 16.86%, the second-highest vote, in the 2002 presidential election.

However, the party’s star appeared to be waning. Its vote dropped to 6.3% in the 2009 European elections.

In the regional elections, the FN won an average of 12%. In the second round, the FN averaged 8.7%. However, it only ran candidates in half the regions — in the seats it contested it averaged 17.5%.

The resurgence of the FN has been put down not only to the dissatisfaction of UMP working-class voters, angry at Sarkozy’s failure to deliver on his promise of prosperity, but more importantly his focus in the lead-up and during the election on opening up a debate on national culture, which is said to have created a space for FN’s racist politics.

Parties to the left of the PS had a mixed result. This has much to do with realignment processes occurring since 2007.

The three main left parties — the Left Party (PdG), PCF and the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) — stood independent candidates and united slates. In most regions, the PG and PCF stood joint lists as the Left Front, which the NPA had been under pressure to participate in.

The NPA was launched in 2009 to unite anti-capitalist activists into a political vehicle in clear opposition to capitalist parties. Its leading spokesperson, Olivier Besancenot, is one of France’s most popular politicians with a 2008 opinion poll giving him a higher approval rating than any PS leaders.

The NPA has argued for an electoral and political alliance of the left based on a principled refusal to take part in or support pro-capitalist PS governments. The PCF and the PG remain open to such participation.

In the European elections, the NPA lists failed to elect any candidates. When the PG won two seats, the NPA’s position was criticised from inside and outside the party.

At its congress in December, the NPA had an intense but inconclusive debate on its electoral strategy. The final decision was to leave decisions about alliances to its regional committees. In three regions, the NPA agreed to take part in the Left Front.

In three of the five regions in which the PCF did not take part in a Left Front list, the NPA joined with the PG to form a joint list. In a further 11 regions, the NPA took part in joint lists with other smaller left currents.

The Left Front achieved the highest average vote of the left with 5.84% nationally — down from 6% in the European elections. This vote rose to 14.24% in Auvergne. In Limousin, the joint Left Front list achieved 13.3%. In the one region where the Left Front qualified to stand its own list in the second round, it scored 19.1%.

NPA candidates achieved an average national vote of 3.4%, down from their vote of 4.9% in the European elections. The low voter turnout was a factor — abstention was especially high among young voters who are most likely to support the NPA, voted.

The NPA’s decision to include Ilham Moussaid, an active feminist and Muslim who wears a hijab, on its Avignon list meant the NPA was criticised by the right-wing media. But it was also criticised by the PG, PCF and PS. All three parties said they would never stand a candidate that wore a hijab.

The NPA has been attacked as sectarian for refusing to take part in the left front, and this also affected its vote.

The impact of the regional elections on French politics is unclear. On March 14, an NPA executive committee statement said the growth in support for the PS and Europe Ecologie had been “fuelled [by] rejection of the Right and Sarkozy in government ... who have made the majority of the population pay the cost of the crisis and who are destroying public services and social gains”.

The statement noted that PS majorities at the regional level had not been a defence against Sarkozy.

The election results will continue to increase pressure on the NPA to participate in the Left Front in the 2012 presidential and national elections. However, with more than 100 representatives in PS-controlled regional executives, the coming period will also be a test for the PG and PCF over whether they will support PS’s neoliberal policies.

In the wake of the elections, Sarkozy has announced he will slow the pace of his reform agenda. However, he is continuing his attacks on pensions – this looms as an immediate and major test for the left.

 

Comments

NPA won higher votes in some regions

R. C., on March 15, 2010 at 7:47 pm Said:

The NPA presented a slate alone with some ultra-small groups (mostly green) in 15 regions, they got between 1,6% in Alsace to 4,19% in Auvergne. The average vote for the NPA slate was 2,77%

The NPA presented a slate with the Party de Gauche in three regions (Basse-Normandie, Champagne Ardenne, Bourgogne) for an average vote of 4,75%

And there was a united slate of the Communist Party, the Party de Gauche and the NPA in three other regions (Languedoc, Limousin, Pays de Loire) for an average vote of 8,7%

Average vote for Lutte Ouvrière was 1,21%

Compared to Australia

While the political contexts are different and the vote was not compulsory (& there was so much abstention)I can see parallels with Australia except the left -- the far left -- is not nearly so strong here nor has it had an initial poll honeymoon (that has occurred in other countries). But the showing of the Greens is similar although the Verdes are not as left as they may be here.

Tu te trompes, François -- Debate in NPA

From http://liammacuaid.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/tu-te-trompes-franois/

March 29, 2010 -- A debate has opened up in the Nouveau Partie Anticapitaliste (NPA) in France about both its disappointing election results and its decision to stand a Muslim candidate, Ilham Moussaïd, who chooses to wear a head scarf.

When you offer an opinion on what’s happened in another country it’s good sense to make sure that you have a firm grip on the facts. Writing in the NPA’s discussion bulletin François Coustal offers the following judgement.

This is my translation of a section from pages 8 and 9:

“…the NPA is not the first radical organisation in Europe to stand a candidate in elections who wears a hijab (voile) and / or believed that to put down roots in working class areas it had to address itself to members of a religious community. There were precedents in Britain and Denmark . The same causes gave the same disastrous results.”

Anyone who can assert that Salma Yaqoob’s high profile for Respect has been “disastrous” is simply wrong. Salma has a much greater public presence in the national press than Respect’s size warrants. Inside and outside the organisation she is considered an impressive and credible figurehead for the party, regularly expressing views that put her squarely on the left side of the debate in British politics.

Coustal gets some major facts right and several crucial ones wrong.

He is correct to say that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) helped convert the anti-war demonstrations into the Stop The War Coalition and very effectively contributed to building the anti-war movement.

He’s also right when he says that Respect was born out of the desire to give a political expression to the social and political struggle against Blair, the personification of New Labour’s sharp move to the right and that it included the SWP and George Galloway who had broken with Labour because of the war. He moves onto less firm ground when referring to Salma Yaqoob. He argues that she was presented as proof that an alliance was possible between the revolutionary left and the “Muslim community” (his phrase and his quotation marks) even though it had not “abandoned its prejudices” (« renonce à ses préjugés »).

Describing the 2007 split his narrative becomes seriously tendentious. He gives the reader the strong impression that the split took place because the SWP had started to find Salma Yaqoob and George Galloway uncontrollable. It’s true that a structural weakness in Respect was and is its lack of collective control over prominent figures. The Labour Party has a similar problem. However the reason for the split had more to do with George Galloway’s perception that the organisation was not being built at a time when an election was thought to be imminent. The MP’s views on abortion or Salma’s religious beliefs were just not part of the debate. When Coustal argues that attitudes to women’s oppression or homophobia were involved he is simply wrong. The debate was around political priorities and organisational conceptions.

The other major error of fact, or perhaps interpretation, is his assertion that the decision to stand candidates who cover their heads was the result of serious debates and democratic decisions. It simply was not an issue which caused any concern. Neither was there any discussion or anxiety about standing candidates who were practising Catholics or members of the Church of England . It was taken for granted that a religious believer who would defend party policy in public was entitled to be a candidate. Purists could even find quotes from Lenin to comfort them.

The concept of laïcité which is provides the backdrop to this debate was once correct and revolutionary. It’s in danger of changing into its opposite as French society changes and militant secularism is used by the right as a transparent cover for Islamophobia. Getting the facts right about the British experience is essential for an informed discussion.

 

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