A group of political activists will make a last desperate bid this month to save France’s bitterly divided left from electoral catastrophe in the presidential election with a “popular primary” to nominate a single candidate.
The popular Primary was initiated by young people dismayed by rifts that could prevent any leftist or socialist figure from reaching the second round of the election in April.
To date, 300,000 people have joined the group calling on left-wing candidates to sign up to a ‘Common Ground’ charter of 10 measures centered on the environment, social justice and democratic reform. This represents around 40% of all members of left-wing parties in France.
More than a third have registered to take part in a popular vote to be held online from January 27-30. Although widely dismissed as an exercise in futility, the movement is gathering support. On Saturday, the influential socialist mayor of Marseille, Benoît Payan, said he would support the winner of the primary.
The French left presents four main candidates: the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo for the Socialist Party (PS); Green party leader Yannick Jadot; far-left revolutionary Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 70; and former justice minister Christiane Taubira, who announced her decision to run on Saturday and participate in the popular primary.
Polls show that none have a chance of reaching the second round in April. Calls for unity were ignored, with analysts blaming candidates’ egos and “irreconcilable” political positions.
Mélenchon and Jadot rejected the popular primary and said they would not participate. Hidalgo initially said she would, then backed down, while Taubira said she would support the vote result and the program.
Mathilde Imer, spokesperson for the Popular Primary, declared: “This is not a classic primary but a citizen’s nomination. We, the voters, will ourselves nominate the person we think is best placed to federate and win. It’s in the hands of the people. The vote will take place with or without the agreement of the candidates.
Samuel Grzybowski, another of the group’s representatives, added: “The candidates could have organized this among themselves, but now it is up to us, the citizens, to choose.
To limit the possibilities of electoral fraud, people registered on the electoral lists must give their credit card details and pay a symbolic €1.
Émeric Bréhier, director of the Observatory of political life of the left-wing Jean-Jaurès Foundation and lecturer at the Institute of Political Studies in Bordeaux, does not have much hope for the popular primary.
“Even if 200,000 people register and vote for a candidate, it will not speak to the entire electoral population. And the idea that even if you don’t want to be a candidate, you are one anyway seems like a strange way of doing things.
Bréhier believes that the 2022 election is lost for the left, and particularly the PS.
Hidalgo, who unveiled his program last week, is far behind five other candidates with less than 4% voting intentions, behind Jadot and Mélenchon. Polls indicate that, if united, the left’s vote total could reach 25% – not enough to trump right-wing candidates, but enough to make them count.
“It is too late for the party to mark this election. Each candidate, on the left, is swimming in his lane and none wants to move an inch, ”Bréhier told the Observer. “The Socialist Party is in difficulty and has been for several years. I do not see at this stage how we can get out of it.
“The most important question now is what will happen after 2022. The left must establish a basic ideology which is something that has not existed in recent years.
“Many socialist voters say today that they will vote for [Emmanuel] Macron or Mélenchon or Taubira, but not Hidalgo. Socialist voters still exist and the passion for fundamental principles, such as equality, has not disappeared. But we have to have a strategy. There is no magic wand. It will be a long, slow and complicated reconstruction.
An electoral catastrophe would also have a heavy financial toll for the PS: Hidalgo needs at least 5% of the votes in the first round for his campaign expenses to be reimbursed by the taxpayer.
In 2017, PS presidential candidate Benoît Hamon hit an all-time low of just under 6.4%, leaving party finances pessimistic and forcing the sale of his Paris headquarters.
Macron came to power five years ago on a centrist program designed to break up France’s traditional two-party system. The opposition right, Les Républicains, has since revived its electoral hopes with Valérie Pécresse, while the PS remains in the stalls.