French left-wing parties attempt to unite under ‘people’s primary’

France's multiple left-wing presidential candidates are set to be judged in a "people's primary" contest starting Thursday designed to reduce the crowded field.

French left-wing parties attempt to unite under 'people's primary'
Photo: Stephane du Sakatin/AFP

A total of 467,000 people have signed up to take part in the online vote which will see five professional politicians and two civil society candidates ranked on a scale from “very good” to “inadequate”.

The winner is set to be announced on Sunday, but the whole exercise looks doomed to fail given that hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, Greens candidate Yannick Jadot and Socialist contender Anne Hidalgo plan to ignore the result.

“There are better things to do 70 days from the first round of voting than an obscure primary,” Melenchon told supporters during a political meeting in Bordeaux this week.

The vote will give a snapshot of opinion on the left, however, and may boost the chances of former Socialist justice minister Christine Taubira, who is seen as the most likely candidate to be endorsed.

READ ALSO Who’s who in the crowded field of candidates in the presidential election

Melenchon, a former Trotskyist who heads La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, is currently polling the strongest in the flagging left-wing field at around 10 percent ahead of the first round of voting on April 10th.

Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, is on around three percent and Jadot on five, meaning all three would be eliminated and fail to make the second-round run-off vote.

President Emmanuel Macron is currently seen as the favourite to win the April 24th election, according to surveys, but analysts warn that the vote remains highly unpredictable.

READ ALSO Why the French left has declined into electoral irrelevance

France’s Socialist party, which was in power under president François Hollande just five years ago, has seen its support disintegrate under pressure from Macron’s centrist political movement and shifts in public opinion.

Jobs, security and immigration are seen as top of voters’ concerns.

Hollande, who left office with catastrophic approval ratings, briefly sparked rumours he might be eyeing a comeback last weekend when he wondered aloud if “another candidate would serve a purpose?” during a discussion with schoolchildren.

“A former president can very well do politics again, and it has happened, be a candidate in the presidential election,” Hollande said.

His office moved quickly afterwards to clarify that he would not make a bid this year.

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Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted