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Parti Socialiste (PS) Socialist Party

The leftwing Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo scored just barely two percent on 10 April 2022 according to projections — below the five-percent threshold required to have campaign expenses reimbursed by the state. The party’s ranks have dwindled for decades as France’s political landscape shifted to the right. More recently, leftwing voters backed Macron or embraced the revolutionary rhetoric of Jean-Luc Melenchon—who far outpaced the Socialists with a projected score of around 21 percent. The left has never been able to recover the working classes. Instead of reinventing itself the party stuck with the bureaucratic middle classes and civil servants — not necessarily bad, but not enough.

Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon was knocked out of the race to become France's president after securing just 6.2 percent of the vote in the first round of the elections 23 April 2017. With the exception of 2002, it's the first time since 1969 that the party was not in the run-off. The French left, even though it was exercising the power of the State for the fourth time since 1981, was one of those moments of acute crisis which was customary. The Socialists had already tasted defeat in the first round, back in 2002. Bruised by five gruelling years in power and bitterly divided, they had always looked destined for defeat.

On 29 January 2017 Socialists in France chose former junior minister Benoit Hamon as their candidate for president in a victory that analysts said was not likely to boost his election chances when French voters begin first-round balloting for a new president in April 2017. The 49-year-old Breton, who wants to legalise cannabis, tax robots and give everyone in France a €750 living wage, picked up around 59 percent of votes cast in the run-off, defeating Manuel Valls, a pro-business former prime minister.

The victory capped a remarkable run by the Socialist “nothing much”, who was long seen as a side-kick for leftists with greater panache. It mirrors trends seen across the West, “where the mainstream left had been mauled by a decade of crisis, rising unemployment and surging inequality", said Bruno Cautrès, a political scientist at CEVIPOF in Paris. Pointing to parallels with Britain’s Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, Spain’s anti-establishment Podemos, and leftist firebrand Bernie Sanders – all of whom Hamon singled out as sources of inspiration – Cautrès added, “Many Socialists dream of a return to the left’s core values.”

Five years after sweeping France's presidential and legislative elections, by 2017 the Socialists were in a sorry state. France's ruling Socialist Party is weak, deeply unpopular and ideologically divided. "The situation is absolutely desperate for the Socialists," says Paris-based analyst Bruno Cautres. "The most important thing about Francois Hollande's mandate is the Socialists have lost their identity." So low had they sunk that Hollande, his ratings at rock bottom, announced last month he would not seek re-election.

For the Socialists, the elections marked a humbling end to five years in power that saw France hit by three major terrorist attacks, unemployment that peaked at 13 percent, and a series of rolling strikes over what economists describe as mostly modest reforms. The party had failed to capitalize on its years out of power. The Socialists did not work on a new political program or project during that time, so their 2012 presidential and parliamentary win more a repudiation of unpopular, center-right leader Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hollande's presidency has been "an immense waste," lamented the leftist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, in an interview with Le Monde newspaper, saying it had led the left "to a state of absolute confusion." The party's very foundations have crumbled, Le Monde wrote in a separate editorial - including its traditional working class support base "which has yielded to the populist sirens of the National Front."

French left-wing voters cast their ballots 22 January 2017 in the Socialist Party presidential primary to choose a candidate they hope will be strong enough to effectively confront conservative and nationalist rivals in the April-May general election. Given deep voter disenchantment, it might seem normal for a leftist politician to sit out this election season. Yet no fewer than seven were on the ballot for the primaries, which are open to all French voters for the price of two euros.

Center-leaning former Prime Minister Manuel Valls was a leading contender among seven candidates, but faced formidable challenges from harder-core leftists Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon, both former government ministers and three members of other leftist parties. Valls embodied the party's more centrist leanings, although he had since tried to adopt more leftist rhetoric as candidate. As prime minister for much of Hollande's presidency, he pushed through controversial labor and security measures, sometimes ramming them through parliament with the help of a constitutional measure he now called for repealing. While Valls is expected to win the first round of voting, analysts predicted he would lose the runoff to a more left-leaning candidate. Valls' main rivals embodied the party's left wing.

Flamboyant former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg championed anti-austerity, protectionist policies summed up by his 'Made in France' motto. "Little Benoît" lacked both Valls’s notoriety and the flourish of Arnaud Montebourg, the fiery former economy minister. Nor did he enjoy the intellectual aura associated with the fourth candidate, Vincent Peillon, who preceded him at the education ministry. Though all four were part of the same generation of former Socialist ‘Young Turks’, alternately allies and rivals, Hamon was very much the junior member – in age, fame and deed.

The dark-horse candidate was another ex-minister, Benoit Hamon. Both fans of the firebrand US senator Bernie Sanders, Hamon and Montebourg ran neck-and-neck in the polls, behind Valls. Surveys suggested one of them would win the January 29 second-round runoff against the former prime minister, scooping up backing and supporters from the other. Most of the “Frondeurs” supported Montebourg; and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo threw her lot behind Peillon.

Hamon, a former education minister who quit Hollande’s government in protest at its right-ward lurch, had recently joined the growing ranks of the “Frondeurs” – the party’s dissident leftist faction. His was the first recognisable name in a festering rebellion that would ultimately prove fatal to Hollande. But, at the time, the French president dismissed the threat.

A Socialist “apparatchik”, Hamon enjoyed little recognition beyond the party’s confines. His first cabinet post, as junior minister for the “social economy”, was hardly a headline-grabber. The subsequent upgrade, to education minister, lasted just 147 days. He was elected to the European Parliament once, in 2004, and the French National Assembly a decade later, but suffered as many defeats.

With his working-class family background, impeccable left-wing credentials and understated coolness, Hamon was a perfect fit for the Mouvement des Jeunes Socialistes (MJS), whose leadership he took over back in 1992. Ironically, it was Valls, five years his senior, who helped the young Breton into the youth wing. To this day, Hamon is known as the man who secured the MJS’s autonomy within the party, turning a docile, obedient club into a formidable force, capable of mobilising large crowds and challenging the top brass.

Analysts said the party winner was likely to be ousted in the first round of the presidential election in April, in a country marked by anti-immigrant populism and economic stagnation. The far-right National Front party of Marine Le Pen is generally expected to dominate the first round, reflecting a wider populist backlash in Europe and the U.S., where President Donald Trump took office. President Francois Hollande declined to seek re-election, fearing his record-low popularity would hurt the Socialists' chances of keeping the presidency.

Support for the Socialist candidate would also be drawn away by popular independent Emmanuel Macron, who shares some of the pro-business strategies of Valls and was seen as attracting the same kind of middle ground voters. Polls say Macron could make it into a presidential runoff, and even potentially win it, if a harder-core leftist such as Montebourg or Hamon gains the Socialist nomination.

Macron, a senior adviser to Hollande and the minister of finance under the previous Socialist government, was a former Socialist Party member whose defection from the party and move to the centre in 2016 also damaged the left’s prospects in a great deal. Macron completely dismantled the Socialist Party, forming a centralist bloc to face the strengthening far-right.

The once-dominant Socialist Party polled a dismal two percent approval of voters in a survey in early 2022, showing how far the left had lost its credibility ahead of upcoming April elections. In modern France, the birthplace of the left-right division, the left is at a loss on how to transform the country and give hope for change in the face of rising far-right and the dominance of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist populist policies.

Due to the political weakness of the left, even when they came to power, “they are doomed to disappoint and to apply the most centrist and more right-wing programmes,” Francois Gemenne, a political scientist at Sciences Po in Paris and the University of Liège in Belgium, told TRT World, giving the example of Francois Hollande, the former Socialist leader.

“Many voters of the left are really kind of disappointed with the presidency of Hollande and consider that he betrayed the values of the left,” says the political scientist, leading many leftists to think that the Socialist Party is not a real left. Hollande’s right-wing domestic policies after the 2015 terrorist attacks alienated many leftists as corruption scandals rocked his presidency.

Under the neo-liberal order, the Socialist Party’s increasing ties with pro-business circles have also alienated many traditional voters of the party, according to Murat Yigit, an academic at the Istanbul Commerce University, who was educated in France. Prior to Hollande's presidency, in 2011, “the Socialists even considered that they could nominate Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF president, as their presidential candidate,” Yigit told TRT World. Many leftists usually find IMF policies incompatible with their political views. Strauss-Kahn withdrew from the race after a sex scandal.

Beyond all measures, Hollande’s failed presidency became a markstone for the collapse of the party, leading many leftists to either back Macron or move to the extreme left, according to Gemenne. This political scene left the Socialist Party in limbo, making the left more divided than ever.

With the Socialists’ political base being badly weakened, there is no blank space left on the left because in France the left has been always organised around the Socialist Party until now. And what happened to the large base of the Socialist Party? “Certainly, part of them is being taken over by Macron himself and another part is being taken over by the extreme left. If you look at the manifesto of Jean-Luc Melenchon, it’s pretty similar to the manifesto of Francois Mitterrand when he won the elections in 1989,” says Gemenne, referring to the late Socialist leader and the former president.

Melenchon, a far-left candidate who wants to leave NATO, is a former Socialist minister, but he also left the party in 2008 like Macron but for different reasons—to form a leftist bloc, including communists. In 2016, he formed "France Unbowed". At the moment, he is the most powerful leftist candidate, moving up to third place in polls with a two-digit approval rating.

He received a big endorsement from Segelone Royal, a prominent leftist figure and the former presidential candidate for the Socialist Party. “It is obvious that the only ‘useful’ vote on the left is the Mélenchon vote,” Royal said, angering the current Socialist Party candidate, Anne Hidalgo, another female politician like Royal. Hidalgo is now Paris’ mayor. “If I were in her place, I’d give up,” Royal added, referring to Hidalgo, who receives less than five percent support, according to polls. While Hidalgo is officially the party’s presidential candidate, she recently lost an unofficial online “people’s primary” to Christiane Taubir, a left-wing icon, but still refused to pull out her candidacy.

But for the Socialists, it will be a difficult task to reinvent themselves as populist movements, which have been partially reignited by a growing resentment toward neo-liberal policies as well as fears of increasing migration, hit many countries including France. In this new populist era, traditional parties have various difficulties to reframe their political discourse. Among them, the leftist parties are having the hardest time reframing their political views. They could not develop a comprehensive analysis on what’s going on in France. As a result, the French Socialists lost much of their political base to populists like Macron.

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Page last modified: 10-04-2022 21:14:59 ZULU