Socialists confront left-wing tensions ahead of key vote

France’s Socialist Party is on track to lead a left-wing parliamentary majority this spring, but differences with allied Greens and hard-left candidates are starting to show ahead of the June 10 poll.


France’s Socialist Party (PS) is still fired up from winning the presidential election this past May, but that joy could soon be doused out. Parliamentary elections on June 10 and 17 are tipped to be a closer-than-expected contest and not the resounding victory for Socialists that was once announced.

Less than a week before the first round of the legislative poll, the Socialist Party’s (PS) success seems to depend less on its ability to rebuff the conservative UMP party that has enjoyed a parliamentary majority for the past ten years than to outsmart its allies and rivals on the political left.

According to several recent opinion surveys, the PS and UMP will gather the same support at the ballot box on June 10. France’s two main parties are both on track to win 32% of first round votes, polling firm BVA revealed Thursday.

Two-round legislative polls in France are notoriously difficult to predict, and the UMP could yet pull off a come-from-behind win. A defeat would force President François Hollande to fire recently appointed Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and pick a new PM from the UMP’s ranks.

A cohabitation, or coalition government with the right, is something Socialists want to avoid at all costs. More than ever, a Socialist majority depends on the group’s formal alliance with the Green party, and its unofficial and often troubled ties to hard-left lawmakers.

“We think the results are going to be very tight,” explained Eric Bonnet, director of opinion studies at the polling firm BVA. “The Socialist Party is not at all sure it can pull off an outright majority, and in that case it will have to rely on the support of the Greens and the Left Front [far-left coalition].”

As the PS races to seize power it is being forced to strike deals with, and make concessions to, other left-wing parties - a road that has already proven to be fraught with peril.

Choking on cannabis

The PS established an accord with the Greens even before the presidential election, opening up the way for environmentalists to make major gains in the upcoming parliamentary poll. In exchange for the Green’s support, the PS promised not to field its own candidates in around 60 constituencies across the country.

While presidential hopeful Eva Joly won a scant 2.3% of votes in the first round of the presidential election, her endorsement of François Hollande saw two prominent Greens - party chief Cécile Duflot and newcomer Pascal Canfin - rise to ministerial posts.

But the Socialists romance with the Greens seemed more like a liability this week than anything else, after Duflot, the housing minister, told RMC radio on Wednesday that she personally supported the decriminalization of marijuana. That statement forced PM Ayrault to remind voters that the Socialist Party – and the government – remained opposed to legalising or decriminalizing the troublesome weed.

Nevertheless, UMP candidates jumped at the occasion to warn voters about the Socialists' alleged permissive views on drugs. Former Health Minister Xavier Bertrand, a UMP candidate in the northern Aisne department, told the press he was “sure” the Socialists were preparing a bill to legalise cannabis.

While the controversy seemed destined to blow over quickly, the forced marriage between the Socialist Party and Greens for the parliamentary poll could have deeper, more fraught consequences. Already, some twenty members of the Socialist party are ignoring the election pact and presenting themselves as candidates in races against the Greens.

In the city of Lyon, for example, prominent Socialist mayor Gérard Collomb has publicly backed Thierry Braillard, a candidate running against Philippe Meirieu, a Green party candidate officially backed by the Socialists as part of the accord.

Pushing the hard-left agenda

Tensions are even more vivid with the Left Front, a hard-left coalition that includes France’s Communist Party. Left Front leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon got 11% of votes in the presidential election but refused to join the Socialist-led government.

Tipped to secure 9% in the parliamentary poll, his coalition is threatening to siphon more votes from the Socialist Party than even the Greens.

Mélenchon has earned plaudits from left-wing voters for directly challenging far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen in a parliamentary race in France’s north. If he wins that race, Mélenchon has already warned he will not systematically side with the Socialists in parliament.

Perhaps looking to win over voters who are once again tempted to vote for the Left Front, Hollande’s government has swiftly moved to make good on a promise to lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 for some workers. “Hollande knows that this measure has the potential to seduce Left Front voters,” explained BVA’s Bonnet.

According to the latest estimates, both the Greens and the far-left coalition should reach the minimum 20 seats required to form their own voting block in France’s next parliament. Even if the Socialist Party seems ready to shed its label as France’s opposition party, its days of having to bargain appear far from over.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning