domingo, 17 de abril de 2016
French Socialists look for best possible loser
French Socialists look for best possible loser
François Hollande is done. For this term at least. Now it’s all about 2017.
By PIERRE BRIANÇON 4/15/16, 5:30 AM CET
PARIS — François Hollande’s term in office came to a premature end this spring, and even the leaders of his party seem to have noticed. All eyes are now on the 2017 presidential election.
While the political outlook could change in the next year, the Socialists may already be simply looking for the best possible loser: Polls so far don’t leave them much hope of making it to the second round of that contest, due in May next year.
The French president’s failure to pass two major reforms on which he had staked his political future — a package of constitutional changes and a long-expected reform of the labor law — and his abysmal popularity ratings have triggered an early start to the race. His potential successors are circling. If Hollande doesn’t run, or if he loses, the Socialist Party will need someone to repair the damage.
Whoever carries the Socialist torch next year — whether current Prime Minister Manuel Valls, former economy minister and anti-austerity campaigner Arnaud Montebourg, or some other candidate — faces an uphill struggle.
“Hollande’s term is basically finished. His twin failure means the end of action, so there will be no serious initiative from the presidency until the election,” said a political adviser to several government ministers.
To be fair, the labor market overhaul isn’t officially dead yet. Trade union opposition to a reform that initially appeared radical by French standards pushed the government to revise it a first time — albeit on minor points. High school students keep demonstrating against the bill, and Valls said he would “look at” their demands. Even if he stands firm, however, and sees the bill through parliament, the reform is unlikely to be considered as a significant achievement by voters. Its impact will be felt only well after the election. What will be remembered is that the clumsy way the government managed the whole enterprise made it look amateurish.
Rival Socialist leaders are hard at work preparing for a post-Hollande scenario.
Hollande earlier this month also put an end to the debate over a series of constitutional changes, including a provision that would strip convicted terrorists of French nationality, acknowledging that he had failed to rally enough votes, either from Socialists or the opposition conservatives.
Through all of this, Hollande has kept his close associates guessing. “When he launched the labor market reform I thought he had decided not to run in 2017,” the government adviser said. “That maybe he wanted to go down as the man who reformed France, even at the price of being a one-term president. Now, I’m not so sure.”
Hollande’s official line is that he will seek a new term only if French unemployment has declined over a significant period of time. It is now at 10.2 percent, above the 8.9 percent EU average, and has been stable for four months even though jobless numbers have declined in most major European economies. If the weak global recovery becomes even weaker, Hollande will lose all hope of meeting his own conditions for running again.
That explains why rival Socialist leaders are hard at work preparing for a post-Hollande scenario. Calls to hold a primary to choose the party’s candidate even if Hollande runs again, launched by a petition of some leftist leaders and intellectuals in January, have petered out. It now looks all but certain that a primary will be organized only if Hollande doesn’t seek reelection.
Then the fun begins, because a primary would have to be run in record time, and organized in a way that would not lay bare the divisions of the Socialist camp after five years of Hollande. That is, to put it mildly, rather unlikely. “If [Hollande] doesn’t run, we’re talking Gunfight at the OK Corral,” said a senior Socialist party figure who asked not to be identified.
French President François Hollande.
Would-be candidates are holding their fire as long as they’re not sure about the president’s intentions. So far only marginal candidates have indicated they would run, while another potential serious one, Lille mayor and Hollande critic Martine Aubry, said she is not interested this time. She lost the primary to Hollande in 2012.
The most serious contenders are Valls and Montebourg, assuming that current Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, who just launched a pro-reform political “movement,” decides to sit one out in 2017 — a likely scenario. In the current political setup, Macron can’t run against his mentor Hollande, won’t run in a Socialist primary that he is unlikely to win anyway, and won’t take the risk of running against the official party candidate and guaranteeing the Socialists’ defeat.
Valls has paradoxically staked out his own position as a contender by lauding Hollande as the best possible candidate for 2017. His insistence that “there is no alternative on the left” to Hollande’s candidacy seemed mostly geared to express the view that no one would be “legitimate” enough to defend the current policies. Subliminal message: If the man doesn’t run, then I’d be the next best choice.
Montebourg, for his part, recently came out of self-imposed exile in the business world by urging the French political system to “Uberize” — and immediately described himself as an adept of “disruption” in politics as well as in business. As for being a candidate, he said, “I’m not there, I can’t answer this question.” Associates doubt he will resist the temptation to run if Hollande bows out.
The numbers don’t look good
For all Socialist candidates, sobriety should be the order of the day. A recent poll by Sciences Po’s Center for Political Research (Cevipof) shows that Socialist voters have a poor opinion of their leaders’ capacity to make it to the second round next year. Thirty-three percent of them think Valls has the best chance of beating the conservative candidate and face Marine Le Pen in the second round, compared to 21 percent for Aubry, 16 percent for Macron and only 4 percent for Montebourg. Just 19 percent of Socialists think Hollande is the candidate most likely to make a second round — a record-low for a sitting president.
Identity is what’s left when you have failed to curb unemployment” — Madani Cheurfa
The same poll showed that if the election were held today, Hollande would come in third place in the first round, with 16 percent of the vote, even against his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy (21 percent), who would then go on to face Le Pen (27 percent) in the run-off.
The choice of the Socialist candidate will determine the tone of the campaign, as there are wide differences between their priorities. Montebourg would campaign on the end of austerity. Macron, in the unlikely event he ran, would focus on the need to address the root causes of unemployment and France’s torn social fabric. Valls has already said he thinks the upcoming campaign should be on the theme of French “identity” and the fight against terrorism and fundamentalist Islam.
“ ‘Identity’ is what’s left when you have failed to curb unemployment,” notes Madani Cheurfa, a political scientist and general secretary of Cevipof, which organized the survey.
Once they have a candidate, the Socialists can be expected to be as divided on his platform as they are on their current president’s policies.