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Elections 2014: Five key questions for the run-off

The Local · 27 Mar 2014, 18:00

Published: 27 Mar 2014 18:00 GMT+01:00

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Last Sunday's first round of voting in the 2014 local elections threw up a few surprises, not least the historic gains for the National Front and the crushing results for President François Hollande's Socialist Party. 

But on Sunday all will be decided in the crucial second round of voting, and with French voters seemingly fed up with the status quo, a President who is the most unpopular in history, and a resurgent National Front Party, it seems anything can happen.

We enlisted the help of Nonna Mayer, Research Director at the Centre of European Studies at Sciences Po in Paris to look at some of the key questions. 

How well can we expect the National Front to do?

All talk after the first round of voting was about the historic gains made by the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen. The FN (Front National) as they are referred to, picked up five percent of the vote despite only putting forward candidates in around 600 of the 36,000 villages, towns and cities.

The far-right party already have one mayor elected in the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont and they are hoping to beat their record of four back in the mid-1990s. The FN will compete in around 200 towns and cities in the second round. Le Pen and co’s success in the first round led to the Prime Minister and several others calling for a republican front to stop the FN taking over local councils. But Sciences Po’s Mayer believes those calls will fall flat.

"They can’t be stopped. It’s the first time the National Front have such an electoral dynamic in local elections,” she said. “French voters mobilized against them in 2002 when the National Front made it to the run-off in a presidential election but this is different.

"Voters are so tired of the economic situation and they have the feeling that the left and the right have been unable to find a solution. They will say: ‘After all, we have tried everything. Why don’t we try the National Front?

“They will probably get six cities and some big ones are in there. It’s going to be a very, very good election for the National Front."

How bad will it be for the Socialists on Sunday?

If the National Front were seen as the big winners in the first round then naturally the losers were President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party, who along with their allies, only picked up 38 percent of the vote. Hollande told his ministers this week to “learn the lessons” from the poor showing in the first round, but the French public, who have long since fallen out of love with the President, might be ready to teach them another one on Sunday.

“Things were already bad. And they are going to be very, very bad in the run-off,” Mayer says. “The Socialists should have acknowledged the ‘punishment vote’ they received in the first round. Mayer blames Hollande’s tax policies and the Responsibility Pact that he signed with business leaders for voters being turned off.

The Socialists are predicted to lose key towns and cities like Strasbourg, Amiens and Caen that they won from the right in 2008. If they were given a bloody nose in the first round, the Socialists look set to get a heftier beating on Sunday.

What will the beating at the polls mean for Hollande's government?

The question then is how will Hollande respond to an embarrassing defeat. Even before the local elections he was under pressure to reshuffle his government and in particular ditch his beleaguered Prime Minister, Jean Marc Ayrault, who appears to be about as popular as the President himself.

"I think he is going to have a reshuffle, but I don’t know who or how,” Mayer says. “But I can say even his prime minister didn’t have the proper reaction after the defeat. If they [Socialists] want to start again fresh then they need to reshuffle."

If Ayrault does go, the man most likely to take his place is the current Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who has remained popular in the eyes of the public, unlike his party leaders. But while making Valls Prime Minister would appease the public, it is unlikely to go down to well in the cabinet. There have already been rumours that Housing Minister Cecile Duflot will quit if Valls is made PM. No easy solution for Hollande then.

Who is going to become the first female mayor of Paris? 

And what about Paris? Elsewhere in the country, all the focus might be on the National Front and the failing Socialists, but in the French capital it is a straight-out fight between left and right. Socialist party candidate Anne Hidalgo was expected to triumph easily over the centre-right UMP runner Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, but that was until she surprisingly lost the first round.

"In Paris everybody was surprised because all of the opinion polls showed an advantage for Hidalgo, but surprisingly it was the right-wing Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who had a very slight victory in the popular vote,” says Mayer.

Story continues below…

But things should be different in the second round, Mayer says. Hidalgo made a deal with the Greens this week and should win the two key arrondissements of the 14th and the 12th, which should see her take control of the French capital. “I really think there is a strong possibility for Paris to remain left-wing,” Mayer said.

Will voters stay away from the ballot boxes again?

The first round of voting in France was marked by a record level of abstention at around 36.5 percent.

Local elections generally see weaker turnout, but experts say voter disillusionment has been fanned by fractious national politics and a struggling economy. Mayer believes most of those who stayed away in the first round will do so again on Sunday.

"Let’s not exaggerate, those who abstained will not now vote in greater numbers. However there may be extra mobilization on the left, because some supporters may be thinking that when it comes to the second decisive round, ‘I should vote, I really don’t want the right or the National Front to come in first.'"

Mayer, like most experts, believes a high abstention rate in the second round can only benefit the National Front, as it did last week. 

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