Thankfully for the much harassed French voter, the election season draws to a close tomorrow evening at 8pm, when the polls close in the second and final round of the legislative elections. It has been a whirlwind two months, with the Presidential election turfing out a one term President and replacing him with a party out of power in the executive branch since 1995. Now with the Socialists poised to take power in the legislature, where does that leave the country and the main parties?
All of the opinion polls are clear: barring a last minute upset, the Socialists are on power to gain an absolute majority in the National Assembly, without having to rely on any troublesome far left deputies for support. They will add the lower house to the upper house (which they gained control of last autumn), the Presidency and the vast majority of regions, cities and towns. The pink wave over France will be complete. Given this domination, the only place the Socialists can go is down. They should begin to manage expectations now for the next municipal elections in 2014, when they are likely to be sanctioned by a frustrated electorate. That’s why President Hollande’s ability to relaunch his government (potentially with Martin Aubry at its head) will be such a crucial factor. He should prepare now.
The UMP conservatives come out of this election season better than they could have been. They lost the presidency and are about to pass into opposition in the National Assembly, but they are still in a strong position as the sole centre right party in France. The destruction of the multitude of right of centre parties is complete and the political landscape is as bipartisan as it has ever been (even though the Front National can make itself a nuisance, they are far from creating a power block to rival the UMP). The UMP will rebuild, picking a new leader this autumn where the fight will be over anchoring the party to the right, where Nicolas Sarkozy has left it and Jean-Francois Cope, current party head, wishes it to stay, and a move to the centre under the last Prime Minister, Francois Fillon.
The UMP’s perilous and amateurish flirting with the FN the past few weeks may cause a sufficient backlash in the country for Fillon to regain ground he has lost to Cope, but the power over the party remains with party members (a group always more extreme than the majority of the cadres).
The country has therefore adopted something like a two-party system, where only those outlyers who attach themselves to one or the other major parties can survive (witness the success of the Greens, the Radicals and the New Centre, in contrast to the independent-minded Modem, which is about to be wiped out for having bucked this trend).
And yet, the two party system is often suggested to be a reason why US politics is so divisive and dysfunctional. Is France about to adopt a system which will ultimately disappoint? Perhaps. But then democracy isn’t about what works, but about what is chosen.
Rendez-vous tomorrow at 8pm.