Σάββατο, 21 Απριλίου 2012
French Presidential Elections: Surprises and Causes
Με αφορμή τις αυριανές Προεδρικές Εκλογές στη Γαλλία αλλά και την άνοδο των δυνάμεων της Άκρας Δεξιάς στην Ελλάδα και αλλού, σας παρουσιάζω ένα άρθρο που είχα δημοσιεύσει πριν δέκα χρόνια στο ηλεκτρονικό περιοδικό ISMproject για τις Γαλλικές Προεδρικές Εκλογές του 2002, τότε που ο ακροδεξιός υποψήφιος, Jean-Marie Le Pen, είχε προκριθεί στον δεύτερο γύρο αποκλείοντας τον σοσιαλιστή υποψήφιο Lionel Jospin.
French Presidential Elections 2002: Surprises and Causes
By Dora Giannaki
Research Student at Queen Mary-University of London
The surprise success of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the veteran far-right leader, in the first round of the French presidential elections on the 21st of April has been rightly described as a ‘political earthquake’. The metaphor is particularly pertinent since the shockwaves have been felt throughout Europe. Monsieur Le Pen with 16.86 % of the vote, defeated the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin – who polled just 16.18 % – and guaranteed his participation in the second-round runoff with President Jacques Chirac. This increase in the support for the extreme right – almost 20 % of the electorate voted for either Le Pen or his former ally, Bruno Megret, in opposition to the 15.5 % they polled together in the 1995 presidential elections – has been accompanied by a considerable increase in the support for the far left; indeed, the three Trotskyite candidates took together more than 11 % of the vote. All these factors undoubtedly contributed to the humiliating defeat of Lionel Jospin despite the, by many accounts, positive performance of his coalition government during the past five years (his innovative social policies included the introduction of a 35 hour week and a major job creation scheme for young people – leading to a considerable decrease in unemployment - and the extension of free welfare and universal health coverage to the most disadvantaged in French society).
The first reaction to these events was surprise and, in many cases, shock. Is, however, the phenomenon of the increasing support for the extreme political parties in France something accidental and inexplicable? In recent years, the dominant doxa is that the so-called ‘triumph of the market’ and the advances of globalisation create the conditions for a transcendence of the left/right divide and the development of a more consensual form of politics. Political debate focuses on the so-called political centre. This urge of the mainstream (left or right) governing parties to occupy the centre of the political spectrum is bound to lead, however, to increasing ideological convergence. It seems that this ‘consensus at the centre of politics’ is one of the basic factors that explain the emergence of extreme parties in Europe – including the rise and electoral success of the National Front in France. As Chantal Mouffe argues, ‘…[t]he specificity of modern democracy lies in the recognition and the legitimation of conflict and the refusal to suppress it through the imposition of an authoritarian order…A well functioning democracy calls for a vibrant clash of democratic political positions’. When this is missing the danger is that democratic confrontation will be replaced by a confrontation between non-negotiable moral values, by the moralization of politics. Furthermore, ‘too much emphasis on consensus, together with aversion towards confrontations, leads to apathy and to disaffection with political participation’. Most crucially, ‘another, perhaps more worrying, consequence of the same phenomenon is the increasing role played by extreme right-wing parties’(1).
Mouffe’s point sounds revealing, but does it capture the intricacies of the French situation? It seems that it does. First of all, the political manifesta of the two main rivals, that is, Chirac’s Mon engagement pour la France and the Je m’engage of Jospin, were of comparable scope; both political programmes emphasized the same issues (taxation, employment, growth, pensions) by proposing, more or less, similar solutions. At least this was the way the two campaigns were perceived by the electorate. In this respect, it is worth considering an opinion poll published in the French newspaper Liberation on 22 March, according to which 75 % of the French voters did not discern any major differences between the two political programmes (2). Furthermore, the disaffection from ‘the consensual form of politics’ and the concomitant political apathy of the French becomes evident when we take into account the abstention rate that reached 28 %, a record in the history of the French presidential elections (the previous highest abstention rate was 22, 4 % in the first round of the presidential elections of 1969).
On the other hand, in their electoral campaigns, neither Chirac nor Jospin payed considerable attention to certain important issues preoccupying the French public: notably, immigration and the growing economic and political power of the EU. Mainstream political parties of the French centre-left and centre-right did not address the above issues in detail because they believed that all debate on ‘immigration is racist and that serious criticism of the EU is nationalist’(3). In fact, the debate on Europe ‘was not discussed at all during the presidential campaign – clear proof that internal political debate is a dead duck in France’(4). As a consequence, both issues have been pushed to the margins, left to the extremists who seized the opportunity to present them in a distorting light: Le Pen focused on them by opposing immigration (directly linking it to the increase in crime and urban violence) and by objecting to the participation of France in the European Union and to the effects of what he calls ‘euro-globalisation’.
The result of the presidential elections was thus to be expected. When crucial issues are left outside the central political scene and consensus reigns in most discussions of the issues included, any political force breaking this ‘regime of truth’ – to use Michel Foucault’s expression – is likely to benefit by attracting the disaffected strata of the electorate. To summarize, important reasons for the success of the far right in France seem to be the blurring of the left/right division, the implicit consensus between the mainstream political parties, and the downplaying of some key issues. It is these conditions that allowed the populist National Front in France as well as other extremist political parties in Europe – such as the Freedom Party in Austria, the Lijst Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands, The Danish People’s Party, and the Vlaams Blok in Belgium – to appear as anti-Establishment political forces representing the ‘real’ will of people.
1. C. Mouffe, ‘The Radical Centre-A Politics Without Adversary’, in Soundings, No.9, (1998), pp.13-15.
2. Liberation, 22 March, 2002, p. 2
3. A. Applebaum, ‘French Twist. Le Pen terrifies Europe by violating its political taboos’, http://slate.msn.com/?id=2064643 (date accessed 23 April, 2002).
4. J. M. Colombani, ‘Nothing but Shame for Shocked French’, Editorial from Le Monde, reprinted in The Guardian Weekly, 25 April, 2002, p. 29.