[personal profile] lacroix
Lists, blocs and rounds.

When the French go to the polls, they vote not for parties but for lists, which are made up of candidates from several parties and are agreed upon by all of them on a regional basis. There is, however, something called a dissident candidacy, where a candidate who feels shortchanged in the list-making process starts some parallel negotiations or simply goes it alone, trying to prove his value by drawing votes away from the main list. Now, as if this weren't confusing enough, many parties are part of an ideological bloc, which often does the list negotiations. Two big leftist blocs, buoyed by their success in the recent European elections, have stayed together to great effect.

Voting takes place in two rounds, with every list with over 10% of the vote in the first going on to the second round. Any party that score's over 5% is allowed to open negotiations to merge their first round list with one of the ten-percenters, and many of them do. This system allows and encourages a lot of inter-party cooperation. This very rarely crosses the left-right divide, though, and virtually ensures that the resulting government will be conducted under the auspices of one of the big dogs.

Dogs of all shapes and sizes.

You could divide the political blocs in France into roughly four tiers, with the classic liberal-socialist divide dominating the top tier. The Presidential Majority is the traditional name for the bloc around the French President's party, in this case the Union for a Popular Movement or UMP. The parties around it are minor things, agrarianists, Blairists, christian democrats and chauvinists. Even though they came first in 10 out of 26 constituencies in the first round, often barely, they have serious issues going into the second round, because they've already hit their ceiling — there are no more moderate right parties they could hit up for extra votes.

The Socialist Party has trended to the right over the decennia, and is best compared with the British Labour Party, though it's a little truer to its roots. They're a ponderous, establishment party of the left or center-left, and their track record's considered an asset. The leftist blocs piling in after the second round strengthen its credentials, as the resulting government tends more to the left than it would otherwise have. In the 2004 elections, they outright won 21 of the 26 constituencies, and some of its minor allies won 3 more. It's stated goal for the 2010 regionals is to run the table, and they're really not that far off.

The next tier is occupied by two very different parties, the largest of which is the National Front under the auspices of Jean-Marie Le Pen. They themselves claim to be mainstream right, but observers point out the virulent rhetoric against everything that's not a straight white male and stuff like trivializing the Holocaust marks them as extreme. Its numbers skyrocketed in 2002, but they've lost ground in every election since then.

So much so, in fact, that they've been overtaken by Europe Écologie, a smattering of Green parties whose long bloc formation paid off in the last European elections, when they outperformed the Socialists in some places. Their main goal now was to match that performance, which sadly didn't work out. They're committed to forming governments and playing matchmaker for anyone who looks vaguely leftist, and they've opened negotiations with the Socialist Party in every region they can.

The third tier blocs are either a bit unstable or in an unfortunate position, but they often hit the 5% threshold. The Left Front, an uneasy and variable alliance of leftist and socialist parties, is at least on an upswing. It usually consists of the French Communist Party and the Left Party, with a few less robust leftist parties thrown in. This arrangement has paid off massively, because there are quite a few regions where they can simply play kingmaker, and it's bound to have drawn its lessons. (The New Anti-Capitalist Party, though, refuses to work together with the SP, so the LF finds itself sidelined in regions where their list includes them.)

The Democratic Movement, a centrist party that tore itself away from its long-standing alliance with the right and has just been hemorrhaging support since then. The regionals held it to just 4.2% of the vote, and it's found itself trapped — the Left Front refuses to work with it and is a more appealing partner for the Socialists, but working with the UMP would just be too bitter a pill to swallow.

Fourth tier are all those that remain, over fifty parties of all stripe, which includes all the regionalists. The New Anti-Capitalist Party is one of them, as is Workers' Struggle, the Trotskyists.

So who comes out on top?

The Socialist Party and the left, obviously. However, the Presidential Majority isn't quite dead yet. Coming soon.

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Julianna Lacroix

July 2010

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