Saturday, March 13, 2010

Regional Elections

Perhaps this little essay should wait until the results are in, but what would be the fun of that? Official pundits are already interpreting. The most significant trends revealed by the polls are, in my opinion, the rise of Europe Écologie and the decline of MoDem and NPA as potential "third forces." I see two points of significance here. First, MoDem and NPA were essentially vehicles of their leaders, which were propelled by the perception that the best way to stop an hyperprésident was to find an hyperopposant: a strong personality with a potent media presence capable of giving voice to voter discontent. I'm not sure that either Bayrou or Besancenot ever really filled that role. Both emerged faute de mieux. Bayrou became the choice of desperate voters convinced at the last minute that Royal was not going to be able to stop Sarkozy. Besancenot expanded briefly into the vacuum left by the Socialist collapse and was further inflated by the media. Neither has proved persuasive in the longer run.

Europe Écologie may similarly be filling a void rather than developing an independent existence, but it is less dependent than the previous third forces on the cult of anti-Sarkozysme. It is, however, served by a cult of personality, or, rather, a cult of two personalities: Duflot and Cohn-Bendit, the good cop/bad cop routine of contemporary French politics. Duflot appeals to voters in some of the ways that Royal did (and I hope I don't incur a charge of sexism for saying this): she incarnates a softer approach to politics, speaks to the daily travails of voters' lives, and introduces a range of issues that elude other candidates. But she also articulates some comprehensive understanding of contemporary dilemmas in a way that Royal never made credible (Duflot seems sharper). Cohn-Bendit complements her maternal image with his unique mix of jolly aggressivity. If she's the mom, he's the favorite son: boisterous, disheveled, indulged, but loved (by some).

Of course neither is un présidentiable (though Duflot might become one), and that is the problem for Europe Écologie in the longer run. The Fifth Republic is, like it or not, a presidential system, and a third force means little at the national level unless it can contend in the presidential arena.

The big question marks for Sunday are the Parti de Gauche and the Front National. Either could do better than expected or worse than expected, and the performance of each will have implications for the strategies of all parties in the presidential race.


MYOS said...

When I try to explain these elections to my family, I tell them French people elect their governor and the State Assembly. It makes more sense to them than " regional elections" which sound very local and minor.
In fact, "régions" control high schools, trains, scholarships, economic policy toward small businesses and start ups, community colleges and apprentice-based trade schools, some aspects of health care (free clinics, nursing schools, medical staff in aforementioned schools), and may enact cultural policies, environmental policies, and services to old people.
That's a lot of stuff, especially if you look at how centralized France still is. It's not just a random "local election" for a council of little power and little means.

I think the Modem might do better than expected, and EE less well than expected. But it may just be wishful thinking - and would not change the overall trends. I suspect that Modem, currently expected to get 3-5%, will be in the 5-7 range, and EE, expected to be in the 15-17% range, will be around 12-14%.

Some questions depend on state.
-How will forces divide up in Alsace? PS and EE were almost equal in some polls. And if EE comes first, will the PS desist and follow their lead? Can a "left" coalition win against the right in a state that is very conservative?

-In Poitou-Charents, which has been very eco-friendly, will the EE score be impacted? (EE and PS go separate even though they worked together for 6 years and the Greens spokesperson is on the PS ballot) - since the PS was doing well in that respect, will voters feel there's no need for a strong EE presence?

-In Languedoc, will the EE+PS+ FdG coalition coalesce? And will it include Modem, even though the national FdG spokeperson said "no way"? Will Southern pride prickled by "Parisians" translate into a victory for Frêche and how will "Paris" interpret it, that Souterners are all backwards idiots or...?

-In Bretagne and Centre, where specific issues have polarized the left (a pointless airport, cronyism among socialists) will moderate voters continue to support the PS or will they vote for others, and in that case, will their vote go to Modem or to EE?

-Will Martine Aubry be able to claim victory or will the "governors" all state their victory is theirs, not hers? (I don't see what Aubry did but it seems traditional to thank the national PS Leader when the PS does well in non-national elections).

- Since the PS divided along a Modem fault line in 2008, will pro-royal governors be the only ones to offer a pact to Modem candidates or will all PS leaders do so, including those who were chosen on the basis of their anti-Modem stance back in 2008? And if they do so, will they be called on it? WIll it change official PS policy?

brent said...

I realize the NPA is hardly a story in this electoral cycle, but since you mention it, I would note the following: the notion that Besancenot was, like Bayrou, positioning himself to be a national candidate was briefly promoted by the French media as a Cindarella story, but that story never interested the man himself or his party. Proof? The would-be candidate has led his party quite deliberately in the opposite direction. First, the NPA took an intransigent stand on joining any Socialist-based coalition, preventing a united front with the PG and PCF. Then Besancenot insisted on supporting Ilham Moussaïd and her local party's prerogative to put her on their list, foulard and all. Both gestures were clear refusals to seek short-term political gain at the expense of principle, both reflect a longer view--and both therefore insure that the NPA cannot be comprehended by the standard media narratives, in which a politician seeks only his own election at whatever cost.

MYOS said...

Front National way up everywhere - it seems disgruntled voters from the right voted FN to express their displeasure to N.Sarkozy.
FN second in Lille after PS. Very close to UMP (.5-1pt) in the Nord and may form a UMP-Fn alliance for the 2nd round.

Frêche way up, Martine Aubry ridiculed with the PS list at 7, unable to form a union -- and since she insisted they go separate from EE, they've lost it all, since EE ALSO failed to reach the 10% mark.

Royal managed to pull 39% with 6 ballots competing on the left - with scores at 44, 46 and more in working-class towns.

UMP at the lowest ever - like, in the history of French elections. Before today, pundits said that even with 31% they'd be low. Seems they're at... 27!!!!! With UMP, Hunters-fishermen, de Villiers, and Nouveau Centre all together?!!!

MYOS said...

For the FN, we must look at local scores - and where they score, they score high. Elsewhere they barely stay afloat - which makes a meaningless "mean".