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France

Polls predict election doom for conservative UMP party

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2012-06-15

Another defeat in France's parliamentary elections could spell disaster for former President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP party, as polls predict France's Socialists look set to get an absolute majority in the National Assembly.

Opinion polls in France show that the Socialist Party will likely enjoy an absolute majority in parliament as voters head to the second round of legislative elections on Sunday.

A victory for Socialists on June 17 would cap a string of triumphs, notably President François Hollande’s runoff win over conservative former president Nicolas Sarkozy last month, and also the French left’s takeover of the Senate in September 2011.

A socialist parliamentary majority would rub salt on the open wound of the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), still reeling from its defeat in the presidential poll and now grappling with internal tensions.

According to Celine Bracq, an opinion expert with the French polling firm BVA, Hollande’s camp has appeared to increase its advantage between the two rounds.

“We thought [the Socialist Party] would have to turn to Greens and hard-left lawmakers to rule… now it looks like they will attain an absolute majority,” Bracq said, adding that BVA projected the Socialist bloc claiming between 280 and 300 seats in the new parliament, compared to between 220 and 250 seats for the UMP.

Jérome Sainte-Marie, director of opinion studies at the French pollster CSA, agreed that a Socialist majority was near certain, adding his company’s calculations gave the left-wing party between 287 and 330 seats.

Socialists need 289 seats of the 577-seat chamber to rule without concession and implement Hollande’s promised reforms.

Questions remained over voter participation, after the first round on June 10 saw historically low turnout among voters.

CSA’s Sainte-Marie said his firm’s surveys pointed toward a new abstention record. “Many voters told us they were disappointed their candidate was not in the runoff. Turnout will probably be lower,” he said.

The UMP’s identity crisis

French National Assembly Seat Projections

Following his defeat, Sarkozy has faded from public view and left UMP leaders to fend off the left-wing offensive on their own. But besides protecting their seats in the National Assembly, the UMP is also confronting both internal rivalries for the party’s leadership and difficult questions about its relationship to the far-right National Front (FN) party.

According to BVA’s Bracq, the presidential and legislative campaigns have revealed two major trends among the UMP’s traditional voters.

“One the one hand, an increasing number of candidates and voters openly say that the UMP and the far-right have a certain number of ‘shared values’ and accept election agreements [between the two parties] at the local level. On the other, you have centrists who are offended by the ‘shared values’ discourse and are turning away from the party,” she explained.

“Clearly, there is movement in the UMP’s electoral base,” Bracq said, adding that the final results of the parliamentary poll would probably shape the “future identity” of the party.

The fates of two UMP parliamentarians could prove to be the litmus test for the opposing trends within the party. Nadine Morano, from eastern France, has vocally called on FN supporters to rally behind her, while Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a representative from the Essone department near Paris, is the leading anti-FN voice within their camp.

Both MPs face an uphill battle to hold onto their seat, and their success or failure could help determine what political direction the party will take.

A foot in the door for the far right?

Questions also remained about the number of seats, if any, the National Front will claim on election night. A handful of FN candidates, including party president Marine Le Pen and her 22-year-old niece Marion Maréchal Le Pen, finished first in their constituencies in the first round.

France’s two-round system, however, makes it difficult for far-right hopefuls to advance all the way into the National Assembly. Among dozens of FN candidates in runoffs across the country, only Marion Maréchal Le Pen was forecast by pollsters to cry victory on Sunday.

Sylvain Crépon, a French scholar and expert on the far-right, said that a seat in the National Assembly would be hailed as a major victory for the National Front, but that it would not be a historic event since the FN had 35 members in parliament in the early 1980s and one additional member in the 1990s.

“It would be historic for the presidency of Marine Le Pen, who would be able to claim she had one or two MPs in the National Assembly after taking over the party,” Crépon said.

Whether Le Pen’s camp finds an entry into parliament or not, the recent elections have confirmed that the far right remains a fixture of France’s political landscape. No one should be more concerned about that than the UMP.

Date created : 2012-06-15

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