The Socialist Party and the Republicans, from hegemonic parties to secondary roles in the French elections

The two women who lead Paris and its region lead the candidacies of two historical parties that, according to polls, have no option in these French presidential election. The mayor of the capital, the socialist Anne Hidalgo, stagnates in the polls at around 2%, and the president of the Parisian region, the largest in France with 10 million inhabitants, the conservative Valérie Pécresse, is between 9 % and 10%.

The Socialist Party (PS) and the Republicans (former UMP of former president Nicolas Sarkozy), dominated the French presidency and the National Assembly of the Fifth Republic in the past, until five years ago Emmanuel Macron it blew up its hegemony, smashing the Socialist Party to pieces and cracking the Conservatives.

In 2017, the liberal Emmanuel Macron, then economy minister of the socialist president Francois Hollandedecided to launch his own movement, La República en Marcha, and stand for election leaving out a Hollande who took a step back beheading his party for the presidential elections.

Bipartisanship was engulfed by the Macron of 2017

Macron not only swept those elections against Marine Le Pen in the second round with 66% of the vote, but along the way he blew up bipartisanship. Many socialists, the most liberal, went with Macron; and others moved closer to the left of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, third favorite for the elections on April 10 with 15% in the polls.

“I ask the socialists not to lower their heads, to be proud… This country would not be the same if we had not been there,” he launched last Wednesday Anne Hidalgo at a campaign rally in Liévin (Pas-de-Calais), claiming the heritage of the PS in France, whose DNA would not be understood without François Mitterrand’s 14 years at the Elysée Palace (1981-1995). But the end of an era has already been consummated.

“The presidential election has an increasingly destructive effect on the political system. Particularly because, in the last elections, Macron deliberately wanted it that way: he went to great lengths to end this system,” he explains. Frederique MatontiProfessor of Political Science at the Sorbonne University and author of the book: Comment sommes-nous devenus réacs? (Fayard, 2021).

Macron seduced notable figures on both sides; mayors, deputies and ministers, such as the socialist Jean Yves Le Drian, who today is the head of Foreign Affairs, or the conservative Edouard Philippe, mayor of Le Havre, who was its prime minister from 2017 to 2020. After attracting heavyweights, the assault on the National Assembly came. Today the Socialists have thirty deputies out of a total of 577, when in 2012 there were 295. The Republicans have 100 compared to 194 in 2012.

For the expert, we are, however, faced with a paradox. The historical setback that the traditional parties are experiencing in the presidential elections is completely out of step with the implantation they have at the local and regional level. Of the thirteen metropolitan regions, the Socialists govern in five and the Conservatives in seven; a centrist completes the picture. Macron’s party The Republic on the Move does not govern in any and the extreme right of Marine Le Pen, neither; and they are the two favorites to face each other in the second round of these presidential elections.

Valérie Pécresse, during an event in Besancon on March 30, 2022. SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Socialists and environmentalists: ‘Je t’aime, moi non plus’

This bleeding caused by Macron is not the only reason to explain why Anne Hidalgo is so low in the polls. “The Socialist Party is a disaster, we are in a dead end”, analyzes Matonti, for whom Anne Hidalgo is not a bad candidate, but rather that she was wrong to want to play alone, dispensing with The Greenswhose presidential candidate Yannick Jadot has 6% of the intention to vote, triple that of the Socialist.

“There was a good dynamic of unity that had been created for the European and regional ones, at least a rapprochement between the PS and the Greens, but this dynamic was broken because some councilors considered, like Hidalgo, that the Socialists were capable of winning in the regional ones without Los Verdes, so they opted for the single candidacy,” he adds.

The Conservatives: “We are not for sale”

The conservative deputies try to maintain unity, at least facing the gallery, around their candidate, Valerie Pecresse, the first woman from the party to stand for election. “She has managed to make a place for herself in a very masculine party, but it is true that she has been the leader of the right for a short time and she has not had a form of symbolic ascendancy as Nicolas Sarkozy had,” he explains. Emilien Houard-Vidalpolitical scientist and specialist of the French right.

Given the few chances that the Pécresse candidate has, whose candidacy has not taken off and is stagnant below 10%, the temptation of the conservatives to align with Macron is not trivial. If in 2017 the right-wing party began to crack, this time it seems that panic has broken out among its ranks. It is as if we were in the second act of a plan to disintegrate, now, The Republicans.

This week, the deputies published an opinion column in the newspaper The Figaro. “We are not soluble neither in the majority embodied by Emmanuel Macron, nor in the extreme right”, they affirm. But the platform has a genesis. As he published France Info, the initiative comes from the deputy Olivier Marleix, who in an original version assured that “we are not for sale”, a phrase that disappeared from the tribune published in the press. Furthermore, as indicated France Infosome deputies are upset that the former president Nicholas Sarkozy He has not made his support for the candidate public.

This is the situation in which these two historical parties that articulated French politics for years find themselves. Today they run the risk of becoming insignificant or even, if the macronism manages to completely tear the conservatives to pieces, disappear as an alternative government.

Although it is not necessary to see in this crossing of the desert a fatality, according to Frédérique Matonti. “About four or five years ago we said that German Social Democracy was dead, that it would not be restored, and now the German Chancellor [Olaf Scholz] he is a social democrat”, remembers the Sorbonne professor.

There is always a margin of error in opinion polls and there is still a week of campaigning to go before the French go to the polls. But, if the polls come true, both the Socialist Party as The Republicans would become secondary characters.


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