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Diversity gains ground in France's new-look National Assembly after vote

© Thomas Samson, AFP | LREM’s Laetitia Avia, who is of Togolese descent, was elected to the National Assembly in Paris’s eighth district.

Text by Françoise MARMOUYET , Romain HOUEIX

Latest update : 2017-06-21

Legislative elections that concluded in France on Sunday brought sweeping renewal with a younger, more feminine and – according to a FRANCE 24 count – a more diverse cohort of lawmakers now set to enter the lower house National Assembly.

Besides the deputies elected to represent France’s overseas departments and territories, FRANCE 24 has tabulated that 35 ethnic minority parliamentarians will sit in the next legislature, up from the mere 10 who were elected in the last vote five years ago. The leap can mainly be credited to President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) and its vast slate of newcomers.

The National Assembly certainly has a new face: More young people, more women than ever before, more first-timers and – finally – many freshly elected lawmakers with diverse ethnic backgrounds. Out of 551 deputies not representing the country’s overseas departments and territories (known as DOM-TOMs), 6.35 percent of the new elected chamber are ethnic minorities.

Gathering demographic data based on ethnicity is forbidden in France, so official statistics on minority populations do not exist. FRANCE 24 took an inventory using our own (imperfect) method: We identified elected officials who have at least one parent whose background is from either a French DOM-TOM or from a non-European country. For the deputies whose origins trace back to DOM-TOMs, we only took into account the ones elected in mainland France. For example, while George Pau-Langevin, a native of the overseas department of Guadeloupe and a Socialist representative of the 15th district of Paris, does figure in our count, we have excluded all deputies sitting in the National Assembly as elected representatives of overseas departments or territories.

The 35 minority deputies mark an undeniable progression compared to the outgoing legislature, which included only 10 (and less than 2 percent of total seats), according to a paper the Diderot Institute published in 2012.

“It is a clear improvement. The representation of diversity has more than tripled and we are delighted with that,” says Thiaba Bruni, spokeswoman for the Representative Council of Black Associations of France (CRAN), which has for years criticised the lack of diversity among elected officials.

Parsing the numbers party by party, there is no surprise: Macron’s LREM provides the largest visible minority contingent with 23 deputies, or 7.71 percent of its 298 deputies elected outside overseas territories.

The most emblematic of those new deputies won their seats in Paris. Lawyer Laetitia Avia, a close Macron ally, won on Sunday in the eighth district of the French capital with 65 percent of the vote. A 31-year-old of Togolese descent, Avia grew up in Seine-Saint-Denis, Paris’s northern suburbs, before studying at Paris’s prestigious Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) and founding her own law firm.

LREM winner Mounir Mahjoubi, in particular, came to represent Macron’s En Marche! movement as a symbol of diversity during the year-old party’s meteoric rise. The 33-year-old, named state secretary for digital affairs in Macron’s first cabinet last month, helped fell the Socialist Party’s 65-year-old leader, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, who had held the seat for 20 years only to be eliminated in the first round on June 11. (Cambadélis has since stepped down as Socialist leader.) Mahjoubi, a new-tech specialist, is the son of Moroccan labourers.

(L) Socialist Party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, (R) Junior Minister for Digital Affairs Mounir Mahjoubi © AFP

LREM’s centrist ally, the MoDem party, provides four minority lawmakers to the new chamber out of the 41 elected from its ranks (or 9.75 percent of its deputies). The Socialist Party and the Radical Party of the Left are sending four more minority deputies, or 11.7 percent of the 34 non-overseas deputies elected under their banner.

As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left La France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France), only one of its 17 elected deputies is a minority, despite the fact that the party nominated a wealth of diverse candidates. Danièle Obono – who won in Paris’s 17th district – is an anthropologist, political scientist, feminist and anti-racism activist born in Gabon in 1980.

The conservatives, meanwhile, are a different story. While the conservative-allied centrist UDI is sending one deputy with a minority background out of 18 elected, not a single Les Républicains deputy in the next legislature comes from a diverse ethnic background, relegating the party to the back of the class. It is hardly surprising that the same can be said of the anti-immigration National Front and its eight seats, but the same goes for the 10 French Communist Party deputies elected. In 2012, the CRAN made the same assessment with regard to those same three parties.

Eric Kerrouche, research director at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research and a specialist in the sociology of elected officials, says it isn’t surprising that the leap forward in diversity is being led by LREM. “From the start, Macron underlined his desire to renew the personnel in politics, to put forward more women, more political novices, more people with immigrant origins,” Kerrouche explains. “But beyond that, a movement that positions itself as an ‘outsider’ necessarily attracts categories that aren’t represented by classical parties.” He also noted that it is easier for a novice to get started in a new party without having to be subjected to the long and arduous selection process that occurs within traditional parties before they designate legislative nominees.

Kerrouche says parties started to recognise the lack of minority representation in the early-2000s, although without necessarily taking action to remedy that state of affairs.

“Nevertheless, improvements in diversity began in local elections, since those votes with proportional representation encourage diversity – unlike majority voting over the course of two rounds, which is the rule for legislative elections,” Kerrouche explained. He cites as an example the 2008 municipal elections, in which 11.24 percent of candidates who won election in cities of more than 9,000 inhabitants were ethnic minorities.

But while LREM is helping to usher in more diversity on the benches of the National Assembly, the CRAN is far from crying victory. “We consider that 11 percent of France’s population is made up of [ethnic] minorities, so we are still far from having sufficient representation in the Assembly,” says CRAN spokeswoman Bruni.

In particular, she notes, within the cabinet, only Mahjoubi and Guadaloupe-born Sports Minister Laura Flessel are from minority backgrounds. And their posts do not constitute top cabinet positions. “It’s clearly a step back compared to governments during [former Socialist president] François Hollande’s term [from 2012 to 2017]. If Macron wants to be coherent, he must name more ministers from visible minorities,” she says.

One final reservation, expressed by sociologist Kerrouche, is that minority representation should not obscure the lack of social diversity among elected officials, in particular those of LREM. Indeed, according to a study by the Centre for Political Research at Sciences Po (CEVIPOF) on the profiles of LREM candidates, 68.6 percent of them hailed from the upper classes.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

Date created : 2017-06-21

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