SHARE
COPY LINK

POLITICS

French left claims historic Senate win

France's left-wing opposition won an historic victory in senatorial elections on Sunday, in a blow to centre-right leader President Nicolas Sarkozy seven months before he is to seek re-election.

The Socialist Party said that, with its Communist and Green allies, it had won enough seats to give the left control of the upper house for the first time in French history, a stepping stone towards a presidential win.

“Nicolas Sarkozy will go down in history as the president that lost the right its majority in the Senate,” declared Francois Hollande, favourite to win the Socialist Party’s nomination to run against Sarkozy next year.

“In a way it’s like a premonition of what will happen in 2012,” he said.

Sarkozy’s prime minister, Francois Fillon, admitted the right had suffered from its divisions and that the left had made a “strong breakthrough”.

“The moment of truth will come next spring. The battle begins tonight,” Fillon said in a statement, calling on the right to unite behind Sarkozy’s government in time to turn the tide before the late April vote.

Right-wing parties have controlled the Senate since the Fifth Republic was founded in 1958, and Sunday’s flip to the left could break the already weak momentum of Sarkozy’s unannounced re-election drive.

Before the vote, outgoing speaker Gerard Larcher had admitted to AFP that if he was defeated by the left it would be a political “earthquake” and “the preparations for the presidential election would be singularly changed.”  

The historic Senate victory also opens the door to a possible Socialist hat-trick, given that opinion polls suggest the left will win next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

“For the first time, the National Assembly, the Senate and the president could be from the left, which would give them serious weight if they decided to modify the constitution,” said political scientist Bruno Jeanbert.

The Senate is not chosen by universal suffrage but by a “super-electorate” of elected officials — around 72,000 mayors, local and regional councillors, voting for figures on the basis of regional lists.

Around half the seats in the 348-strong house were up for grabs in the poll, and the left needed to add only 22 more seats to win a majority.

With many centrists, independents and non-party figures in the upper house, it might be a few days before the exact division of forces becomes clear.

The outgoing speaker, UMP stalwart Gerard Larcher, said before the vote that he was confident of maintaining at least a six- to 12-seat margin to win re-election to his post on October 1st when the new chamber meets.

But Bel now expects to gather enough votes to unseat him.

The right did not initially admit defeat, with results still coming in, but the mood in Sarkozy’s camp was decidedly more sombre.

Budget Minister Valerie Pecresse said she regretted the result and said she was “sad” for Larcher and his team.

Claude Goasguen, a UMP lawmaker from Paris, admitted his party had had a bad day in the capital. “We have to take on board the consequences quickly,” he said, calling for a root-and-branch renewal of the Paris party.

And the mood in the country appeared to have already had direct political consequences, with Pecresse confirming the threshold for top rate income tax might be brought lower.

The Senate vote has no direct bearing on next April’s presidential poll, which will be open to all French voters and conducted over two rounds, the second a head-to-head run-off between the best placed candidates.

But defeat is an ill omen for Sarkozy, whose party is already nervous about his low poll ratings and the ongoing economic and financial crisis.

Sarkozy has attempted to play on his foreign policy credentials as the current leader of the G8 and G20 great power blocs and the main foreign champion of the Libyan revolution that toppled Muammar Qaddafi.

But whatever glory he may have picked up on the international stage has been drowned out at home by the implication of his closest allies in a series of high-level corruption and party-funding scandals.

Meanwhile, unemployment remains high and France’s financial sector has found itself under attack on the markets, where traders fear its banks are overexposed to risky Greek and Italian debts.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

POLITICS

France says all troops left Mali, ending nine-year military mission

The last soldiers belonging to France's Barkhane operation in Mali have now left the African country, the French chiefs of staff said on Monday.

France says all troops left Mali, ending nine-year military mission

French forces have been supporting Mali against insurgents for nearly a decade, but President Emmanuel Macron decided to pull out after France and the Malian junta fell out in the wake of a military takeover.

“Today at 13H00 Paris time (1100 GMT) the final contingent of the Barkhane force still on Malian territory crossed the border between Mali and Niger,” the statement said.

The army had met the “major military logistics challenge” of the pull-out “in an orderly and safe fashion”, it added.

After ties ruptured between Paris and the junta that took power in Mali in August 2020, France began to withdraw its troops in February, as jihadist violence surged in the Sahel.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Why were French soldiers in Mali?

Friction developed over the junta’s delays in restoring civilian rule and escalated when Mali brought in Russian paramilitaries — personnel described by France as “mercenaries” from the pro-Kremlin Wagner group.

‘Prevented caliphate’

Macron on Monday congratulated the military on its nine years in Mali, saying it had “prevented the establishment of a territorial caliphate, and fought against terrorists that attack local populations and threaten Europe”. 

Most high-ranking members of the “terrorist groups” had been “neutralised”, he said, adding that 59 French soldiers had died in Mali in total.

More than 2,000 civilians have been killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso since the start of the year, according to an AFP tally based on the findings of non-governmental organisation ACLED.

In this file photo taken on December 07, 2021 shows the French flag and France-led special operations logo for the new Task Force Takuba, a multinational military mission in sub-Saharan Africa’s troubled Sahel region. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

BACKGROUND: France announces withdrawal of troops from Mali

At its peak, France’s Barkhane mission had 5,100 troops among five Sahel allies, all former French colonies — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The forces have provided key support in air power, troop transport and reconnaissance. France has an air base in Niger’s capital Niamey where it has deployed drones.

After the Malian pullout, the mission will have “around 2,500” troops, Barkhane commander General Laurent Michon said last month.

The reconfigured mission will emphasise “more cooperative operations,” he said.

Frontline Niger

France will keep more than 1,000 men in Niger, where a tactical group will continue to work in partnership with the Nigerien forces.

Niger is a frontline state in the fight against jihadism as the unstable region struggles with a string of military coups.

“The democratic regression in West Africa is extremely worrying,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told French MPs ahead of a trip to the region in July. 

“However, in spite of these events (and) the withdrawal from Mali, France will continue to help West African armies fight terrorist groups.”

Niger is one of the biggest recipients of French aid, receiving 143 million euros ($146 million) last year.

READ ALSO: France calls Mali’s exit from defence accords ‘unjustified’

The two sides will sign agreements for a French loan of 50 million euros and a grant of 20 million euros.

Niger, the world’s poorest country by the benchmark of the UN’s Human Development Index, has been badly hit by the jihadist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and then swept to neighbouring countries.

Niger is facing insurgencies both on its western border with Mali and Burkina Faso and on its south-eastern frontier with Nigeria.

More than a thousand troops will be deployed in Niger, providing air support and training, according to French sources.

French troops are also in Gabon, Ivory Coast and Senegal, as well as in the east of Africa, in Djibouti.

READ ALSO: Macron agrees to return Benin sculptures ‘without delay’

Macron in June asked the government and military chiefs “to rethink our overall presence on the African continent by the autumn.”

He called for “a presence that is less static and less exposed” and “a closer relationship” with African armed forces.

SHOW COMMENTS