France: Record low vote in legislative election

Time to build a fighting left force

The ‘sweeping victory’ for ‘La Republique En Marche!’ (REM) – the party of neo-liberal President Emmanuel Macron- in the second round of parliamentary elections is not as resounding a victory as it might appear. It has indeed got 308 MPs out of 577, plus 42 for its allies in the Democratic Movement (MoDem). This gives Macron a clear parliamentary working majority, and he intends to use it to take back many of the gains won by workers over decades of struggle.

But REM’s vote is considerably short of what was anticipated and it does not hide the fact that the government has only got the support of a minority of the people who are registered to vote in France. Given the size of the abstentions in the presidential election, Macron got no more than a quarter of what was possible. Many votes for him were cast only to stop far-right Marine le Pen from winning.

In the first round of the ‘Legislatives’ on June 11th, Macron’s party got barely 15% of the electorate’s support! Even the pro-capitalist media – in France and internationally – voice the fear of the ruling class that the main battles with the government will now open up outside parliament.

Socialist Party first secretary resigns

The previously ruling ‘Socialist’ Party (PS) lost about 90% of its 280 parliamentary seats, ending up with just 29! Its first secretary – Jean-Christophe Cambadelis – announced his resignation shortly after polls closed, indicating the terminal decline of the party which at best is in urgent need of “a renaissance”! He warned about the dangers of Macron having complete control over the government and “an Assembly under orders”.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the left formation FI (France Insoumise), was comfortably elected in his Marseilles constituency with 59% of the vote in the second round. But his party – the FI – was able to field candidates in only just over 70 constituencies (one in eight) and had no agreement from the Communist Party not to stand in the same constituencies. Also, the FI has only a loose structure at this stage. However, with a real re-mobilisation in many constituencies, the FI got a total of 883,786 and 17 deputies – enough to form a parliamentary group.

Immediately after the result was known, Melenchon made a call for “resistance” to Macron’s plans for attacking the country’s labour law, its welfare state provisions and jobs. “Not one metre of terrain in relation to social rights will be ceded without a fight!”, he declared.

Abstentions and other votes

At over 57%, the abstention rate was a record high and greater in working class and poor areas. Roughly 10% of those going to the polling stations cast blank votes or spoiled their ballot papers. Those workers who were unsure about Melenchon’s programme, preferred not to give anyone their support. While the Communist Party’s vote dropped by nearly two thirds, its final representation remained at 10 seats. This is now just two more than the far-right Front National who went from two to eight seats.

The FN conducted an energetic campaign and got this fourfold increase in the number of seats but did not get as many votes as expected. Nevertheless, its leader, Marine le Pen, got into parliament for the first time with a comfortable 59% of the vote in the northern constituency of Henin-Beaumont. In the South, an FN candidate defeated the REM’s famous female bull-fighter, Marie Sara. But Le Pen’s right hand man, Florian Phillippot, was not elected and the party does not have enough MPs to form a group in the Assembly. The vote for the FN, this time in competition with many other parties, and only present in 110, was a total of 1,590,858. In the presidential election Le Pen had more than 50% of the vote in over 45 constituencies.

The Guardian in Britain commented just before the second round that “far-right voters across France have abstained in the parliamentary vote [first round] – more so than any other group” (June 17). The article also quoted a retired office worker from Grenoble who “had not voted in the first round and wasn’t going to vote in the second. ‘What’s the point? Nothing ever changes for ordinary people like us anyway’”.

The coming to an end of the tumultuous electoral battles of this year by no means makes for a calm period ahead in France. As Gauche Revolutionnaire (CWI in France) has said, the next round will be on the streets. Some trade union leaders are said to be planning strikes and demonstrations, but they should be mobilising now for action before the Summer shut-down. Macron must be told that giving €10 billion to private entrepreneurs for business start-ups, as he has just announced, while pushing ahead with vicious cuts to the public sector budget will simply not be tolerated.

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June 2017