Eszter-Petronella SOÓS PhD

52. The year of political death

For an analysts like me, it is kind of obligatory to consider the passing year. Whose year was it? What was the year about? I could easily say that 2016 was the year of the Fillon-surprise, but in fact, it was rather the year of political death. In 2016 – unexpectedly or not – France executed a major part of the old guard of the political class. Juppé, Hollande, Sarkozy: in 2016, a series of big names were sent out of the field either by the electorate, or by themselves. Either way, their participation is over.

I do not want to underestimate the significance of the Nice terrorist attack, or of the constant state of emergency, or of the Euro 2016, or of the Labor Code reform… No. Obviously, these were key moments of the year, significant events, which will be duly listed in political yearbooks.

But most of all, this year was about the great harvest of political death.

If someone had predicted in January 2016 that by the end of the year, neither Alain Juppe, nor Nicolas Sarkozy, nor the sitting President would count as a key political actor, and that somehow all of them would drop out from high politics, I wouldn´t have considered it as the most probable scenario. Far from it. I would have given a relatively modest, say, perhaps a 20% chance to that scenario to materialize.

I would rather have voted for Juppé’s presidential candidacy and for Hollande’s re-election bid, because so early in the year, trends referred to that outcome. (I’m just saying that President Hollande´s dropout was not that evident when we know that between September-November 2016, in three consecutive months, unemployment did in fact decrease).

Still, the scenario of smaller chances materialized in 2016, and the expectants of the 2017 presidential election, figures who once dominated French political scene fell out of the favour of voters or simply chose to retire. (It does not surprise anyone that Sarkozy and Juppé has to retire from national politics, but both of them, and at the same time? Remarkable.)

And maybe, maybe, we are not at the end of this yet. According to polls, the socialist primary is not clearly decided between Manuel Valls and Arnaud Montebourg. Debates are coming (January 12th, 15th and 19th), they may turn the political table. There is a chance that Manuel Valls will not be able to control the Socialists, and Montebourg, who is seeking the possibility to push the movement deeper to the political left, will be able to obtain the candidacy in the second round. (Manuel Valls is leading in the first round, but he has little, almost no reserves for the second one – the difference between the two candidates is within the margin of error in the second round, therefore a first-round victory would be important for the former PM.)

The notion of Matignon-curse is not unfamiliar: no incumbent PM could ever take the Presidential chair, and the Valls Primiership is not as distant as he thinks and suggests it is… (Observers are rightly entertained by his opinions about eliminating rules which was used by him as PM against the parliament, or by the times he tries to picture his own candidacy as a form of rebellion.)

And I have not mentioned Emmanuel Macron yet, who is not only popular (more popular than Republican canditate F. Fillon), but the majority of the French also believe he would be a better president than FillonIn the background, Fillon’s staffers consider Macron as a dangerous candidate, because he is younger, more dynamic, in addition to his liberalism, he is socially sensitive too, furthermore he does not promise “blood and tears” as Fillon does with his austerity program. And Fillon’s team is right on that point. Macron could cause serious surprises in the future, especially if he manages to build a national movement and if the leftist Montebourg is the socialist candidate, leaving space in the political center (however, Macron’s rural embeddedness will not be built over half a month, so I am a bit sceptical about his marge de manouevre).

Not to mention that tiny problem that Henri Guiano and Michèle Alliot-Marie may take some social Gaullist voters. They both announced a presidential bid, ignoring the result of the Republican primary. In other words, there is a chance that the “winner” team will also be divided, and of course that would mean unforeseeable consequences… and good news for the National Front. The upcoming weeks and months, therefore, will be about a push to prevent these candidates from collecting the necessary number of signatures and to block their candidacies with any means necessary (pressure tactics and intimidations also come to mind!). 

This means that we do not know yet who will be the next victim of political death – but the illness is raging, and there will be victims. I would dare to bet good money on this.

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