Only a few days before the first round of voting in the French presidential election, most polls indicate that the Socialist Party of France faces a crushing defeat. The party of Francois Hollande, that came to power in 2012 with 51% of the votes cast in the second round, is polling less than a week before the election at 7.5%.
“We are in a very bad situation, yes it’s true” Corinne Narassiguin has told DW in an exclusive interview on Conflict Zone. ”We are going a political crisis and we do have to reinvent ourselves. We will have to reinvent ourselves after the elections.”
The story of the rise and fall of the Hollande’s socialists, who these days counts with a meagre 4% approval and 70% dissatisfaction, is a task that for the Socialist Party remains somewhat intractable. But what is clear, is that the grim reality could be the harbinger of the end of one of the two main traditional political forces in France along with the conservatives.
Candidates neck to neck and no socialist among them
The new political groups have taken a leading role in the French political drama. What many considered the scandalous emergence of Marine Le Pen’s extreme-right Front National has been accompanied by the once unthinkable success of the centrist force of Emmanuel Macron, himself once a socialist.
Lagging slightly behind stands Francois Fillon carrying the torch of the Gaullist conservatives. . Although plagued by accusations of corruption, Fillon’s campaign has managed to keep up with the two new powerful forces.
It is the left of this electoral field that has been traditionally occupied by the Socialists who have been the torchbearers of the social democratic project since the fusion of preceding socialists groupings in 1969. With an expected outcome of less than 10% of the votes for Benoît Hamon, that space has been effectively vacated. As Michel Friedman pointed out to the speaker of the Socialist Party, with such meager numbers, Mr Hamon is essentially “out of the game…. And the President is socialist.”
The Beginning of the End of the Socialist Party of France
But perhaps the socialist candidate is out of the game precisely because the meager political record of the government belongs to a socialist president.
During his 5 years in power, the Hollande administration managed to build opposition in almost every sector of the French public. The Same Sex marriage law law of 2013 brought staunch opposition and massive demonstrations from conservatives across the political spectrum. With the labour reform of 2016, Hollande guaranteed himself the enmity of trade unions, progressives and the left wing of the socialist party that have traditionally formed its base. The majority of the country (70%) according to some polls, opposed the reform and 1.2 million people came out to the streets to make their displeasure known. The government dug its heels in and rammed the reform through the legislative bodies without a vote. This caused a second wave of outcries. Hollande and his prime minister were accused by their own party members of despotism and betrayal of the socialist project.
Hollande came to power espousing all the time-tested progressive messaging, including his condemnation of “the world of finances “, which he called his “true enemy”, promising a major hike in taxes for the rich (a whooping 75% income tax) and a systematic reduction of unemployment. But this Hollande, is a socialist have a hard time remembering. When asked about the apparent difference between candidate Hollande and president Hollande, Ms Narassiguin told Conflict Zone “Francois Hollande said he’s a social democrat.”
The public however seemed to have seen it quite differently. Not only the reforms that allowed companies to fire workers more easily, reduce overtime pay and severance packages while introducing more flexibles rules for furloughs did not produce tangible results, as Ms Narassiguin herself admits but perhaps the most visible economic indicator, remained stubbornly at 10%.
The labour reform may have amounted to the political self-immolation of the Socialists but in the word of Ms Narassiguin, Hollande not only “made reforms that were very hard” and understandably “unpopular” but according to her, reforms that were of critical importance to guarantee the economic future and competitiveness of the coutnry. Drawing a comparison to the reforms that brought to an end the political life of Gerhard Schröder. Narassiguin said: “I think whoever is the next President will benefit a lot from the reforms that Francois Hollande put in place in France.”.
What is left of the left no longer lives in Rue Solferino
Meanwhile the French electoral machine moves full-steam ahead leaving the political relics on its way to the second round on May, 7th and all of France is wondering if the PSR will not be one of them.
Nominally, at least, the party has been abandoned even by many of its own central figures. Manuel Valls, for instance, one of the architects of the current socialist debacle has said that he will vote for Mr Macron. In fact, Narassiguin and the party leadership at Solferino 10 have been worried about a mass migration of socialist voters to the lines of Macron. “We do have we do have a problem with the left in general which is very fractured.” said Narassiguin.
But the fact is that the left has found its footing just not in the socialist party. Since late March, the former junior minister of Professional Education of the Chirac coalition government has been climbing in the polls. Melenchon is now within ½ a point of Fillon and 4 from Macron, the top contender. The socialists are well-aware that Melenchon is the only hope for the left in a field dominated by various shades of conservative and neoliberal politics. But it is also clear that Melenchon presents a threat to any future reconfiguration of the Socialist party and Narassiguin puts the viability of the candidate’s political project into question: “If you remove Jean-Luc Mélenchon from his party there’s nothing left.”
But perhaps in one of the strangest turns of events of the French political calendar, the left has come within reach of the Elysee. The question is now if the socialist voters that have gathered in support of the socialist party would be willing to unite behind Melenchon. If they do, the political landscape of France will see a new transformation. And after all, even Ms Narassiguin recognizes that “the left has fractured in France” and it must be united again. This could be the opportunity the socialists were looking for.