Monday, May 14, 2012

Sacre Melenchon

Francois Hollande will officially become President of France tomorrow. It is a big deal and has already caused shock waves that are being felt through out Europe. Even in the week before the transfer of power, the atmosphere here in France has changed.
But, though it is the crucial move of the game, it could be lost if the sense of change doesn't carry through into the June legislative elections. The Socialistes control the Senate, but the Senate is not where laws originate. Most of the representatives in the legislature are up for re election. The UMP has the majority now. The feeling is that the majority is in big trouble and there is a very good chance for the Socialistes and a coalition of the left to gain control in the legislature and on a local level.
In regarding the election of Hollande, you have to look at the particular chemistry of the votes. Western France and most of the big cities went strongly for Hollande. The support of Sarkozy was mainly in the more reactionary east. North Eastern France, the region around Calais is one of the strongest sources of support for the Far Right Nationalists, It is the power base of Le Front National. A crucial factor in the election was the amount of support that Sarkozy thought he could get from the Far Right. 
At the beginning of Sarkozy's 5 year administration, Le Front National was discredited and bankrupt. The old attack dog leader, Jean-Marie LePen had alienated most of France with his repeated outrageous racist denials of the Holocaust. The party had already become fractured and had a history of scandals that destroyed it from the inside, where ever they actually had gained office. They had to sell their main headquarters.
This changed rapidly as Sarkozy tried to pick up the pieces for his own political gain. He catered to and courted the Far Right as the power base that would ensure his re election and transformed the UMP into an increasingly Far Right Racist Nationalist Party. Of course, this only had the opposite effect. While he did take France radically to the Right and used the opportunity to try to destroy the unions, coop the justice system and protect the wealthy, he created a corrupt monster. The UMP became more like the Republican Party in America. The rhetoric they used daily only empowered and unleashed the racist demons lurking in the French Psyche. In effect, they recreated the Front National. The Front National had a new leader. The daughter of Jean-Marie LePen, Marine LePen. Marine is a lawyer and she learned how to speak the language of discontent and is a skilled populist orator. She has attempted to soften the image of the Front National, cloaking the old xenophobic manipulation in a veil of vague social reform and promises. If you read the actual social platform of the Front National, you might think, except for the religious and racist and anti homosexual crap, that they were left of the American Democrats. But that what fascism does best. Dissemble and make vague promises while manipulating the basist urges of the confused and economically dispossessed masses. The power base of the FN is the NorthEast. The equivalent of the Rust Belt...the highest unemployment in France. They blame the unemployment on the influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and their oldest demon, Islamic North Africans.
So, Sarkozy counted on the votes of the FN members for his re election. He assumed that they would vote for him against Hollande. What he didn't count on was the true hatred of the FN for Sarkozy and in empowering them he gave them their shot at seizing power. In the crucial last week of the election, on May 1st, Marine LePen urged her followers at their Jeanne d'Arc rally in Paris to either abstain or vote blanc. Later in the week, she actually came very close to endorsing Hollande, saying he was the less of the two evils.
In the first tour of the Presidential Election, much was made of the strong showing of the Front National. The sensationalistic media touted it as the rise of the extreme right. They garnered 18% of the votes putting LePen in third place. At the same time, another phenomena was occurring. The polar opposite party, Le Front Gauche was galvanizing the same disaffected masses as LePen. Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the Front Gauche and their presidential candidate is a Communist. He had been a Socialiste and actually had been Minister of Transportation in Mitterands government. He is actually an old friend and adversary of Francois Hollande. Le Front Gauche is the champion of the Unions. He is an extremely charismatic, witty character as well as a brilliant, fiery orator. As LePen rose in the polling, so did he. At times during the race, he was doing better than her. Until the last days of the First Tour, they were neck and neck. He held rallies all over France drawing crowds estimated between 20,000 and over 100,000 in April at the Bastille in Paris. There was a great series of debates and in depth interviews of the candidates on French Television...a prime time show that lasted 3 hours.
One night it was LePen and I said 2 polar opposites addressing the same issues. They were supposed to debate, but LePen petulantly refused to debate. It was probably one of the biggest PR gaffes of her campaign. She said to Melenchon, "I'm not going to debate you. You treat me like I'm half crazy." Melenchon instantly shot back, "Well, I did leave you the best half!"
She pulled out a newspaper and started to read it on live TV as he tore into her for 20 non stop minutes.
Melenchon came in 4th after LePen. He told his supporters to vote for Hollande.
The show is not over, In the upcoming legislative election, Marine LePen is running for the seat in the Northern Calais Town of Henin-Beaumont. The FN is trying to maintain it's visibility and capitalize on its new populist image by trying to take as many seats as they can. Obviously, as leader of the party, Madame LePen's candidacy is a must win for it's credibility.
But surprise, guess who just announced his candidacy for the same seat? Jean-Luc Melenchon! The FN has been trying to establish itself in Northern france, but this is where the Unions were born, in the mines! This was traditionally the seat of Communist power for decades and has a very well organized party. Melenchon has a very good chance of winning and if he doesn't well, he will have provided france with some of the most entertaining political theater we have seen in decades! Sacre Melenchon!

No comments: