Understanding French departmental elections

Understanding French departmental elections

LILLE, France — The Republic of France is divided into 101 administrative regions, 96 in Mainland France in Europe and five overseas. Called “departments,” each of these regions is administered by an elected “departmental council,” known previously as the general council.

On March 22 and 29, departmental elections took place in two rounds across France to elect new council members. The elections are considered important because they present an idea of the popularity of each political party regionally.

Before the elections are over, it’s difficult to predict the results, because polls do not always reflect the real political views of citizens and there is a strong competition between candidates.

Today, there are three major political parties in France, unlike in previous years, when there used to be only two, the Socialist Party (PS) and the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the center-leftist and center-rightist parties respectively.

But the far-right political party of French politician Marine Le Pen, the National Front (FN), is becoming increasingly popular and gaining more votes over the years. She led it to the top ranks of French politics through attempting to fix its “extremist” image from the time when her father, Jean-Marie, was at the helm.

An emerging key player in France’s politics, Le Pen became known for her protectionist and socially conservative policies. She is also known for her opposition to the euro and advocacy of protectionism.

French President François Hollande, leader of the PS, is expected to lose in the next presidential elections that will take place in 2017.

The Islamist attack on local magazine Charlie Hebdo in early January triggered the worst security crisis in decades as described by the BBC. But for the way he handled it, Hollande gained some popularity at home and received international recognition.

Still, his party lost in the departmental elections, denoting that he is no longer as strong as back when he was elected to head the country almost three years ago.

Meanwhile, former president Nicolas Sarkozy made a successful political comeback as the leader of the UMP. Sarkozy’s goal is to become a second-time president in 2017.

Moving one step forward on his way to achieve that, he scored an important victory in the second round of the departmental elections last month.

National TV channel France 24 reported that the UMP and centrist allies won, claiming 29.4 percent of votes in the first round. But it is important to mention here that the UMP made several alliances with the MODEM and the UDI, and the number of UMP supporters cannot be known exactly.

In second came the anti-immigration FN with 25.2 percent of ballots, whereas Hollande’s PS finished in third with 21.8 percent, followed by hard-left candidates who received 6.1 percent of votes.

Generally speaking, both winners and losers are impelled by the results of these elections to reconsider their political strategies and set new goals in order to increase their popularity.

The FN received a good amount of votes and its leaders are gaining more representatives locally, which will allow them to have a more direct connection with the people, thus gaining more opportunities to govern.

Although many people say Le Pen and her party should not govern because they are not experienced enough to handle national affairs, most French citizens agree with the issues they tackle, like the dissatisfaction with the European Union policies and the focus on changing France’s immigration policy.

Hollande and Sarkozy are expected to sharpen their plans to keep the FN from leading the government. But only the future will tell if Le Pen’s continuous rise and nationalist policies will be her key to the Elysee Palace.

cartoon credit: The New York Times/Charlie Hebdo October 2014 cover

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