Socialist Hamon faces battle for party support as heavyweights eye Macron

Gabriel Bouys, AFP | Benoît Hamon poses prior to taking part in the show "L'Emission politique", in the studios of French television channel France 2 on March 9, 2017.

French Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon is struggling to get his presidential campaign back on track as a growing number of party bigwigs publicly consider voting instead for centrist Emmanuel Macron, a former economy minister.


Remember Benoît Hamon? It's been less than two months since the 49-year-old former education minister stormed to a surprise victory in the Socialist Party primary in January.

A leftist moderniser, Hamon was seen as a chance to breathe new life into France's battered ruling party with a bold platform that included a universal basic income, the legalisation of cannabis and a tax on profits reaped from automated labour.

But with the first round of voting just over a month away, the Socialist candidate has been struggling to get his message across during a volatile campaign dominated by conservative candidate François Fillon's fake-job scandal and the self-styled anti-establishment pitches of both Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Hamon tried to “relaunch” his campaign during a two-hour-long political show on France 2 television on Thursday evening.

Profile: Hamon's Brave new Socialism

“I’m a fighter. I’ve learned to fight, even in adverse winds,” said Hamon, who insisted that his candidacy had been legitimised by the 2 million voters who took part in the January primary.

Mutiny on the horizon

But Hamon's flagging presidential bid is facing more than adverse winds. The former "frondeur", as the party’s dissident leftists are known, now has to deal with a mutiny in the making.

Several Socialist politicians, including prominent lawmakers and mayors, have publicly threatened to throw their support behind Macron. The latest Socialist heavyweight to defect was former Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë, who said on Wednesday that he would back Macron because Hamon’s “dangerous” platform was not able to “bring the left together”.

The telegenic Macron, a 39-year-old former economy minister, has struck a chord with pro-business voters disillusioned with the ailing parties representing the traditional right and left of French politics.

According to the latest Cevipof survey, 25 percent of French voters plan to back Macron in the first round of the presidential election on April 23, making him the candidate best positioned to face Le Pen (with 27 percent support) in the May 7 run-off.

Hamon is forecast to come in fourth place with 14 percent of the vote, according to the same survey.

Jumping ship

While he has been mostly ignored by his right-wing rivals, Hamon is bracing for more blows coming from his own camp. Delanoë has already adopted the rallying cry of the mutineers: calling for a “vote utile” (pragmatic vote) in favour of Macron.

"We need to support the candidate who can beat Marine Le Pen," Delanoë told France Inter radio. "It wasn't an easy decision to make, [but] fighting the far right has to be a priority."

"The pragmatic vote for the first round is a vote for Macron," he said.  

The president of France’s lower house National Assembly, Socialist heavyweight Claude Bartolone, echoed Delanoë’s comments on Thursday, pledging in a Paris Match interview to vote for Macron if “democracy is in danger”.

In a bid to stem the haemorrhage, party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadélis has called on fellow Socialists to “keep their calm” and not "rush” to jump ship.

But he and Hamon are running out of options for disciplining their own camp. With the Socialists’ approval ratings at rock bottom, the threat to withdraw the party's endorsements ahead of June parliamentary elections no longer carries much weight.

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