André Chassaigne: One of the last defenders of France’s 'dead’ Communist Party?
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First-round results of the French legislative elections showed a crushing defeat for the French Communist Party (PCF). But in one tiny constituency in central France, the party’s candidate, André Chassaigne, had every reason to celebrate.
Running for a seat in parliament in the fifth constituency of Puy-de-Dôme, Chassaigne topped the polls in the first round, securing 34.84 percent of the vote – more than five percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, Sébastien Gardette, who scored 29.27 percent for President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en marche (LREM) movement.
“On a national level it’s complete upheaval, it’s a tsunami. But the first observation I can make about the situation here, is that here, there is strong resistance,” Chassaigne, or “Dédé”, known for his bushy moustache and his husky voice, told local broadcaster France 3 shortly after learning of his victory.
Sunday’s election results were historic in many aspects. Firstly, they confirmed the extent to which the French have chosen to break with mainstream political parties by propelling Macron’s still untested party towards a parliamentary majority; secondly they demonstrated a record-high abstention rate, and thirdly; they underscored the undeniable demise of the country’s left.
'Haven't seen this before'
On a national level, only 15 candidates running for PCF in France’s 577 constituencies made it through to the second round of the elections. In 2012, there were 25.
“We haven’t really seen this before. But in 1958 only 10 [of our] candidates went through,” PCF spokesman Gérald Briant told FRANCE 24.
The LREM is currently projected to take around 430 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly following the second round of voting on June 18, the conservative Les Républicains party between 70 and 110 seats, the Socialist Party between 20 and 30 seats, the far-left "Unsubmissive France” movement 18 seats and the far-right National Front around five seats.
Although Chassaigne, the bespectacled former school principal from Clermont-Ferrand, may be on his way to win a fourth re-election to parliament, the national tally for his party cements the fact that he, and only a few other left-wing radicals, are still fighting for the traditional communist cause they once signed up for.
'French communism is dead'
According to political experts, his PCF party has only survived the past few decades thanks to the political alliances it has struck with either the Socialist Party or other left-wing parties.
“French communism is dead, and it has been for a long time, at least in the past 15 to 20 years,” Vincent Martigny, assistant professor in political science at École Polytechnique and research associate at CEVIPOF-Science Po, told FRANCE 24.
Martigny singled out the far-left "Unsubmissive France"movement led by political firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which has picked up steam by both accepting, and embracing, French voters’ call for change.
Analysts say Mélenchon’s ambition is essentially to gobble up what remains of the fragmented left - including the formerly powerful Socialist Party and the PCF – and lead the main left-wing opposition force.
Paying the price
During the presidential election, the PCF threw its weight behind Mélenchon who in many ways managed to revitalise what many thought was the end of the far-left with his anti-capitalist, anti-globalist values.
But when it was time for the legislative vote, many PCF members chose to go it alone to avoid having to cede potential parliamentary seats to Mélenchon’s movement.
Late on Sunday, Pierre Laurent, the head of the PCF, expressed his disappointment with the results.
“The price to pay for the divided left has indeed been expensive. The [far-left] forces that supported Jean-Luc Mélenchon have found themselves in competition with each other because of the decisions made by the leadership of Unsubmissive France. They all suffer the consequences this evening. Also the Communist Party, whose national result is very low.
“The left has been severely weakened, and even eliminated in many constituencies. We regret it, despite all the efforts we have made.”
But in Puy-de-Dôme, where Chassaigne’s "Unsubmissive France" rival only secured 6.82 percent of Sunday’s vote, the dream of keeping French communism alive lives on.