France: National assembly elections

The results of the June 2 first round of the national assembly elections are not simply a right wing success and do not give a full picture of French politics.

The victory for Chirac’s new UMP coalition is not based upon any widespread support for his policies. Only seven weeks earlier, on April 21, just 14% of the electorate voted to re-elect Chirac, the lowest ever score for a sitting French president. Chirac was only re-elected President on May 5 because of the mass mobilisation against Le Pen, the candidate of the far right.

The situation where the Presidential run-off was the between Chirac and Le Pen, in other words between the right and the extreme right, was fundamentally the result of the widespread disappointment with five years of Socialist Party led government. The votes for Jospin, the Socialist Prime Minister who was standing for the Presidency, fell from 7,102,000 in 1995 to 4,610,750 on April 21. This is what allowed Le Pen to get through to the second Presidential round.

The National Front’s poor June 2 results show not only the effect of the mobilisation against Le Pen after April 21, but also that there was a large protest element in his earlier vote. On June 2 the total extreme right vote was 3,218,282, 2,253,457 lower than on April 21 and 604, 237 down on the 1997 Assembly elections.

However the character of the movement against Le Pen helped secure the election victory of Chirac. The leaders of the Socialist and Communist parties, plus the trade union leaders, worked to prevent the anti-Le Pen protests developing an anti-capitalist character and centred on maximising the Chirac vote on May 5.

While the media concentrated on Le Pen, the April 21 vote also showed the leftward radicalisation taking place in France as the Trotskyist vote nearly doubled from 1,616,550 to 2,973,640, 10.44%. Unfortunately the policies of the major French Trotskyist organisations meant that this opportunity to start to build a new, genuinely socialist, force in France was missed, and on June 2 their vote crashed to 737,930.

Votes however only give a snapshot of mood and opinions at one moment. The high level of abstentions, 35.62% of the electorate did not vote, indicates the deep dissatisfaction in French society.

Chirac, despite the possibility of his winning a parliamentary majority in the June 16 second round, is still very wary. The French right wing remember all too well 1995, when the then newly-elected Chirac was defeated by a mass workers’ movement within months of becoming President. Within two years Chirac was isolated in the Presidency after the Socialist and Communist parties won the 1997 parliamentary election.

The mass anti-Le Pen protests have once again shown the potential power of French workers and youth. Sooner or later this force will be used to defeat the inevitable attacks that Chirac will be forced to make.

But the fight back of the French working class will not simply be a repeat of 1995. The April 21st Trotskyist vote shows that increasing numbers of workers and youth are drawing radical conclusions from both their experience of struggle and the Jospin government. This will be the basis upon which a new, genuinely socialist force can, and must be built, in the near future.

See also: France’s political earthquake | What next after Chirac’s victory? | Fight the right: build a workers’ alternative | Is Europe moving to the right?

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June 2002