2007-06-08 Nick Champeaux
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Socialist in disarray as France goes to the polls

Georges Pau LangevinGeorges Pau Langevin
French people always vote for the president’s camp when a parliamentary election follows a presidential poll…At least that’s what happened in 1981, 1988 and 2002…..In fact Socialist leaders said publicly on several occasions that victory was not realistic. So Why bother? one might ask……. Former socialist Finance Minister, Dominique Strauss Kahn, went to the 21st constituency of Paris this week, to support Georges Pau-Langevin, a female candidate running in Paris’ twentieth district.

Both walked up the multicultural rue d’Avron and shook hands with locals, in front of cameras and photographers. I asked Strauss-Kahn what was at stake in this election for the left.

What is at stake today, is to know whether there will be an important opposition today to allow democracy to work, or whether we are going to have a huge right wing majority, opinion polls say that the latter scenario is more likely, in that case it would be very difficult for the opposition to do its job.

Dominique Strauss-KahnDominique Strauss-Kahn
The problem is that the socialist party is divided, and that it’s doing very little to conceal the cracks. Both Strauss-Kahn and the defeated presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, want to take over the socialist party, and they’re not the only ones. Disputes often have to do with ego….Here in the twenty first constituency for instance… The incumbent Member of Parliament is a socialist. But the party has asked sixty five year old Michel Charzat, not to stand again, in order to enable a female candidate to run….but Charzat refused to do so. Georges Pau-Langevin, the official party candidate, says that’s not doing the party any favours.

The socialist party chose me ! There is another candidate who refuses the decision made by the party bureau. There is only one candidate running for the party, not two, there is me and one who refuses to let go.

Langevin has a strong chance of winning nonetheless, but as a socialist MP, she will probably belong to the opposition…What do opposition MPs do in France? Not much, says Gérard Grunbert, political analyst at France’s Institute for Political Science in Paris.

They can talk in the assembly, talk, talk and talk. They can say:” we don’t agree”, they can try to censor the government, but they have no chance because they won’t have a majority. And they can propose draft bills, but there is no point, because they won’t go through.

Socialist candidate, Georges Pau-Langevin, says for starters the least Members of Parliament should do, is actually attend sessions in parliament.

We need to be vigilant, we need to be present! Because it has not always been the case. On the law on France’s colonial past for instance, we have not resisted the draft because many of us didn’t attend the late session on the bill. The opposition is not credible if it doesn’t study bills enough, if it doesn’t spend time with people to understand their problems, and voice their grievances.

Michel CharzatMichel Charzat
Even if the election is a landslide for the right and Nicolas Sarkozy, socialists will have the option to use regional councils to resist or promote their agenda locally….Following the 2004 regional elections, twenty one out of France’s twenty two regional council presidents went to the socialists….If they fail to do so, if the socialist party is too weak, François Ernenwein from the daily progressive catholic paper La Croix, says people will take it upon themselves to resist and engage in one of France’s national sports…street demonstrations.

In a scenario where the left would be too weak to do its opposition job, too weak to represent a second pole, I think that other forms of protests would surface. I am not praising street power, I am not sure it’s something that is good for France, I think we need to come up with new checks and balances.

That would be in the Autumn though, French people tend to head to the beach instead of taking to the streets during the summer holidays……

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