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Pro-Putin demonstration, Moscow, March 10 2014  (Photo: Dmitry Serebryakov/AFP/Getty Images)

Pro-Putin demonstration, Moscow, March 10 2014
(Photo: Dmitry Serebryakov/AFP/Getty Images)

National chauvinism edition.

Angus Roxburgh, former BBC Moscow correspondent, has a disquieting “Letter from Moscow” in the New Statesman (April 1st), in which he describes how the mood there is turning increasingly nasty. The lede: In the wake of the Ukraine crisis a rampant chauvinism has been unleashed, while sanctions on Russia have created the kind of atmosphere dictators love.

Le Monde Moscow correspondent Marie Jégo has an equally disquieting dispatch on “Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine” (issue dated April 2nd), which is fanning the flames of national chauvinism in that country. N.B. the last two paragraphs

Parce qu’elle est intervenue dans la foulée des Jeux de Sotchi, l’opération spéciale des forces russes en Crimée a été accueillie par les Russes comme la victoire de leur équipe de football favorite, aux cris de « La Crimée est à nous » et « Jamais nous ne lâcherons les nôtres ».

Expédiée en dix-neuf jours – les troupes russes sont intervenues le 28 février, la Crimée est devenue « sujet » de la Fédération le 18 mars – l’annexion de la presqu’île a déchaîné l’enthousiasme du public. Selon le Centre d’étude de l’opinion publique (VTsIOM), 90 % des Russes l’approuvent. Dans la foulée, la popularité de Vladimir Poutine s’élève à plus de 80 % d’opinions favorables, contre 60 % en janvier.

Le petit écran alterne l’alarmisme et l’euphorie. Toutes les chaînes publiques – Rossia 1, Rossia 2, Rossia 24 – ou privées – NTV, propriété de Gazprom, Ren-TV et la 5e chaîne, du milliardaire et ami de Vladimir Poutine Iouri Kovaltchouk – font la part belle à la pensée unique. La victoire de l’armée russe en Crimée est encensée tandis que l’Ukraine est dépeinte comme un « territoire » à la dérive, rançonnée par des bandes criminelles, la faute Continue Reading »

Obamacare: here to stay

Dallas TX, August 20 2013

Dallas, August 20 2013

So says Theda Skocpol of Harvard University, who’s one of the smartest social scientists around, in an essay in TPM Café, in which she tells Republicans that they “need to suck it up and learn to love Obamacare,” as there’s no way that they’ll be able to repeal the law, now or ever. She thus begins

A big U.S. social insurance program is enacted into law – only to face delays and fierce controversies. Regulations are imposed on businesses and taxes collected well before citizens get sizable benefits. Right-wingers fight for repeal or evisceration, and many on the left are also disgruntled. Outright failure remains possible for years after enactment.

Obamacare? No, we’re talking about the early life of the program called Social Security, now hugely popular and regarded as virtually untouchable politically.

Social Security was enacted in 1935, but no one got a check until the first small benefit was issued in 1940. Scheduled revenues vital to the program’s viability were repeatedly delayed, and conservatives and leftists tried to scuttle it altogether. Not until the mid-1950s did Eisenhower-era Republicans finally accept Social Security; and it took until the early 1970s for generous benefits to make it widely popular.

Compared to this long story, Affordable Care is advancing at warp speed. Sure, Republicans are still fighting a rear-guard war for “repeal.” And an impatient media blows every tiny glitch into Armageddon. Political reporters have a vested interest in the notion that Obamacare is still up for grabs if Republicans take control of the Senate next November.

But let’s look at the unfolding realities, starting with the health insurance facts.

Read the rest of the essay here.

The Valls government

© AFP

© AFP

[update below]

Voilà my reaction à chaud to Manuel Valls’s government. First, on the appointment of Valls as Prime Minister. It was a logical choice for Hollande IMO. After Sunday’s debacle there was no way he could keep Jean-Marc Ayrault at Matignon. Ayrault is a good man but is almost a carbon copy of Hollande—both politically and his persona—and had become inaudible, both with the public and within his own government. No PM in the Fifth Republic has ever seen his stature so diminished (except maybe in the case of the one her, Edith Cresson, but who was ejected by President Mitterrand after serving only nine months). The way the institutions of the Fifth Republic function, the PM is supposed to be the President of the Republic’s firewall, the one who takes the heat and hit in public opinion polls while the president pulls the strings. It’s a screwy system but that’s the way it is. But Ayrault was not fulfilling this function. François Fillon didn’t either as Nicolas Sarkozy’s PM but Fillon was far more popular than Sarko—in the Fifth Republic it’s normally supposed to be the other way around—, such that the latter couldn’t fire him, even if he wished he could. Ayrault’s polls numbers have been slightly higher than Hollande’s but were still very low. So he had to go. It’s too bad he was so unceremoniously pushed out, as, with the exception of Mme Cresson, he’s the PM who lasted the shortest period of time at Matignon before being asked to resign by the president (Chirac, as Giscard d’Estaing’s first PM, also served only two years but he voluntarily quit; he wanted out).

On replacing Ayrault, I had thought that maybe Hollande would ask Laurent Fabius, as he’s a heavyweight, the two are politically on the same page, and he’s finally shed his decades-long unpopularity with the public (the sang contaminé affair is such ancient history that it’s doubtful anyone cares about it anymore, if one even remembers or knows about it). But it was clear that Fabius was not interested in returning to Matignon. He likes the Quai d’Orsay, where he’s doing a good job in the estimation of all, and, as the elder statesman, has nothing to gain at this point in his political career by taking the thankless job of PM. On Monday morning France Inter political editorialist Thomas Legrand spoke of Bertrand Delanoë as a possibility, but that seemed unlikely, as his Parisian “bobo” image would likely not go over well with alienated left voters outside the Île-de-France. Martine Aubry was obviously out of the question (as she and Hollande can’t stand one another and are absolutely not on the same page when it comes to economic policy). So Valls, who was intensely lobbying for the job, was the inevitable choice. And he’s probably the best one possible for Hollande right now, as he entirely shares Hollande’s social-libéralisme—including the pacte de responsabilité—and whose personal style—outspoken, borderline in-your-face—will guarantee that he’ll be politically front and center during his tenure at Matignon. He’ll be a much stronger media presence than Hollande, which won’t be a bad thing for the latter. If Valls’s poll numbers stay high, it will likely pull up Hollande’s as well; and if the calvaire of Matignon pulls him down, that will put paid to his presidential ambitions, which won’t disappoint Hollande. Serge Soudray, an editor at the journal ContreLigne, had a good commentary yesterday praising Hollande’s decision to name Valls (h/t Art Goldhammer). One thing’s for sure, which is that we’ll be hearing a lot more about Georges Clemenceau—Valls’s role model and inspiration, and probably the most interesting politician of the Third Republic—, and particularly with the approaching centennial of World War I.

On the EELV’s refusal to participate in Valls’s government: how pathetic and immature. The écolos, who came out of the municipal elections reinforced, are going to throw it away in a sterile ni-ni position of both opposing and supporting the government, whose success they nonetheless depend on. The EELV needs the PS more than vice-versa, particularly if it wants to have even a single deputy in the National Assembly. If the PS decides not to deal with the EELV in the next legislative elections and to run candidates in every circonscription, the écolos will likely end up with nothing. As for the gauche of the PS, which cannot stand Valls—the PS left considers him to be more on the right than the left—, he’s made sure to include them in a significant way in his government. Here’s the government that was named this morning (in protocol order):

Laurent Fabius — Foreign Affairs and International Development: Obviously. He’s been doing a fine job at the Quai d’Orsay. No reason whatever to move him somewhere else.

Ségolène Royal – Ecology/Sustainable Development/Energy: It was clear that she was going to be named to a high-level ministry, though not this one—and where she will have the rank of Ministre d’Etat—, which was supposed to go to the EELV. I’m impressed with her ability to rebound politically after humiliating defeats, e.g. her score in the 2011 PS primary and the 2012 legislative election fiasco in La Rochelle (the one in which Valérie Trierweiler famously tweeted). I thought Ségo was finished politically after the last one. But she’s relentless. In point of fact, she’s very smart and has matured considerably since the 2007 presidential race. And her commentary Sunday night on the Socialists’s defeat was particularly good (watch here).

Benoît Hamon – Education/Higher Education/Research: The chef de file of the PS left-wing gets this super ministry—replacing Vincent Peillon and Geneviève Fioraso, who got the boot—, and with a million fonctionnaires under his authority, who form the PS’s core constituency but are showing signs of disaffection with the party. If the PS loses the public school teachers, it’s done for. The syndicats des enseignants will be happy. As for the necessary reform of the educational system…

Christiane Taubira — Justice/Garde des Sceaux: I thought Delanoë would be named to this and with Taubira moved elsewhere (culture maybe), partly because her bilan as Garde des Sceaux is considered mixed. But she kept it. Will wait for the analyses of this one. Perhaps it’s a message to Mme Taubira’s many detractors on the hard right—who really hate her—to go suck on it.

Michel Sapin — Finance/Public Accounts: Hollande’s longtime ally, policy wonk, and entirely on board with the pacte de responsabilité. He’ll be the interlocutor with Brussels and other European finance ministers.

Arnaud Montebourg — Economy/”Productive Recovery”/Digital Technology: This may be called the Ministère de l’Economie etc but it is, in fact, a super ministry of industry (and housed at Bercy, where Montebourg will cohabit with Sapin). It was clear that Pierre Moscovici was going to be dumped but with Montebourg kept on and in a high-profile position, not only as he’s on the left-wing of the party—whose acquiescence Valls needs—but also because he’s come to be quite appreciated by the CEOs of French industry. He’s become the business-friendly champion of Made in France. His rhetoric has evolved over the past two years. He’s now more of an asset to Hollande than a pain. And he’s well-spoken and good on television.

Marisol Touraine – Social Affairs/Health: No change.

François Rebsamen — Labor/Employment/Social Dialogue: PS heavyweight, mayor of Dijon (reelected), close to Ségolène Royal. It’s been well-known for years that he covets the Ministry of Interior but he and Valls don’t like one another, so the latter nixed that. He’ll be the one to deal with the unions as the pacte de responsabilité is implemented. Bon courage.

Jean-Yves Le Drian — Defense: No change. Hollande—with whom he is close—and Valls wanted him at Interior but he said no. He likes Defense. And he’s been good in that position.

Bernard Cazeneuve – Interior: A second-tier party figure, fabusien, considered solid and serious. Replaced Jérôme Cahuzac at Budget en catastrophe last year. His appointment to the Place Beauvau looks to be a faute de mieux for Hollande and Valls—and he almost had to be appointed to some position in the government, as otherwise he’d probably try to get his National Assembly seat back in a by-election, which he—and the PS—would most certainly lose; and the PS cannot afford to lose any seats at this point. The interior minister is usually a high media-profile figure but he’s not likely to match Valls on that score.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem – Women’s Rights/Urban Policy/Youth/Sports: Increased responsibilities for a star of the last government (though one wonders what these portfolios have to do with one another). She’s won’t be government spokeswoman anymore, though (which is okay, as that just’s a langue de bois position anyway).

Marylise Lebranchu — Decentralization/Reform of the State and the Civil Service: She goes back to Lionel Jospin’s gauche plurielle government, so has been around for a while. Is close to Martine Aubry.

Aurélie Filippetti – Culture/Communication: No change. Her record over the past two years has been mixed but it would have been tough to boot her from the government given that she won reelection in Metz (in 2nd place on the list) on Sunday.

Stéphane Le Foll — Agriculture/Food Industry/Forests + Government Spokesman: Same ministry but with enlarged attributes. Close to Hollande. He’ll be in the news a lot as the new govt spokesman.

Sylvia Pinel — Housing/”Equality of Territories”: The one PRG member of the government (Christiane Taubira merely being allied with the PRG). She was in the last one but with a low profile, i.e. one never heard about her. Her appointment here looks to be faute de mieux, as PRG chief Jean-Michel Baylet was expected to enter the government but has suddenly run into legal problems having to do with an affair involving calls for tenders from a decade ago.

George Pau-Langevin — Overseas (Departments and Territories): The obligatory minister from the DOM-TOM (she’s from Guadeloupe). And it had to be a woman, to maintain parity.

N.B. All but two of the members of the government—Royal and Rebsamen—were in the last one (and, pour mémoire, my reaction à chaud to that one is here). The Secretaries of State will be named in the coming days.

UPDATE: The Secretaries of State—which are second rank governmental posts—were announced today (April 9th):

Jean-Marie Le Guen — Relations with Parliament (under PM Manuel Valls): A former strausskahnien du premier plan. Political base is Paris’s 13th arrondissement (where I lived in the mid-late 1990s, so used to see him around; I heard him speak a couple of times in local settings and thought he was pretty smart).

Harlem Désir — European Affairs (under Laurent Fabius): Totally pathetic, unserious choice, manifestly made by Hollande and Valls to get him out of the Rue de Solférino (and where he hardly shined, c’est le moins que l’on puisse dire). He’s been a member of the European parliament since 1999, though has mainly worked there on development and globalization issues. And like many other French MEPs, he was slated for the European parliament by his party not out of a particular interest in European issues but because he failed to win a national mandate.

Fleur Pellerin — Foreign Trade/Tourism/French citizens abroad (under Fabius): New portfolios for her. She was appreciated in the last government. So good choice. FYI, she was adopted as a child from South Korea.

Annick Girardin — Development/Francophonie (under Fabius): PRG member from Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.

Frédéric Cuvillier – Transportation/the Sea/Fisheries (under Ségolène Royal): He had this post in the last government. Is a former mayor/deputy from Boulogne-sur-Mer, so presumably knows his portfolios.

Geneviève Fioraso — Higher Education/Research (under Benoît Hamon): Her post in the last government. University professors and research scholars—some of them, at least—absolutely do not like her.

Christian Eckert — Budget (under Michel Sapin): Became an expert in the domain as deputy in the National Assembly.

Valérie Fourneyron — Commerce/Artisanat/Consumption/Economie sociale et solidaire (under Arnaud Montebourg): New portfolios for a Secy of State in the last government.

Axelle Lemaire — Digital Technology (under Montebourg): She’s lived in London for most of the past twelve years. Was an aide to Denis MacShane in the House of Commons.

Kader Arif — Veterans/”Memory” (under Jean-Yves Le Drian): Same post as in the last government. Is a fils de harki. I’m looking forward to finding out what his “memory” responsibilities will entail.

André Vallini — Territorial Reform (under Marylise Lebranchu): An important portfolio in view of PM Valls’s announced intention to halve the number of regions and merge the departmental and regional councils. This is a big deal. Vallini is close to Hollande and whose profession is the law. He is no lightweight. Nor is he a genius. As it happens, I devoted an entire blog post to him three years back, at the height of the DSK affair. What I had to say about him was not positive, i.e. I shredded the S.O.B.

Laurence Rossignol — Family/the Elderly/”Autonomy” (under Marisol Touraine): A feminist activist. Also known as one not to have her langue dans la poche, i.e. she gives people who irritate her a piece of her mind.

Ségolène Neuville — Handicapped Persons/”Struggle against exclusion” (under Touraine): A medical doctor by profession. Has only been in politics since 2012.

Thierry Braillard — Sports (under Najat Vallaud-Belkacem): In the PRG. The only Secy of State Mme Vallaud-Belkacem will have to help her out in her “broom wagon” ministry.

For the record, President Hollande has named his BFF Jean-Pierre Jouyet as Secretary-General of the Presidency of the Republic, i.e. chief-of-staff of the Elysée. Jouyet, a classmate of Hollande’s in ENA’s famous promotion Voltaire, was, pour mémoire, a Secy of State for European Affairs (2007-08) under President Sarkozy—one of Sarko’s prises de guerre from the left—, during which time Hollande was PS first secretary, i.e. head of the opposition party. Jouyet was considered by Socialists to be a sort of traitor. Mais ça c’est du passé…

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[update below]

The debacle was even more monumental than expected. It was historic, worse than 1983. The left—mainly PS—lost 155 communes with a population of 9,000 and over, 49 between 30 and 100K, and 8 cities of over 100K. Those who’ve read about it elsewhere already know the story: the PS managed to save Paris (Anne Hidalgo), Lyon (Gérard Collomb), Lille (Martine Aubry), Strasbourg, and Nantes—and, thanks to a merged list with the Front de Gauche, picked up Avignon from the UMP (and fended off the FN) plus a few others—but it was the Berezina just about everywhere else. Toulouse, which the PS won in 2008, went to the UMP, along with numerous cities that have been Socialist/left bastions for decades, even a century: e.g. Limoges, Belfort, Nevers, Dunkerque, Chambéry, Amiens… The dense network of PS-run municipalities that was painstakingly built up by François Hollande during his period as party first secretary—and particularly in the western part of the country—was decimated in one fell swoop. After the 2008 elections the PS was looking to be the party of cities, the one with the strongest local base, but now the UMP/UDI have taken that mantle (and with the UDI, led by François Bayrou in Pau, taking its share of communes, meaning that it will be a big center-right player in the coming years). Even the PS victories in the large aforementioned cities have to be relativized, as the intercommunal governing structures that have been established over the years, and particularly since the 1990s—and which will progressively supplant the communes themselves in local decision-making—, will also pass to the right. So even though Martine Aubry won reelection in Lille she was not happy last night, as the UMP took nearby Roubaix and Tourcoing, meaning that she will lose the presidency of the Lille Métropole Communauté Urbaine, which is almost as important to her as being mayor of her city. As for the future Métropole du Grand Paris, the UMP (Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet?) may have enough votes to control it when that time comes (January 2016).

On this score, the results in the famous ‘red belt’ around Paris were also calamitous for the left (PCF and PS), which, entre autres, lost the communes in the neuf-trois I mentioned in my post last week: Bobigny, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Le Blanc-Mesnil, Livry-Gargan, Saint-Ouen, and Villepinte. By my count the PCF only has six communes left in the Seine-Saint-Denis. And to the list of setbacks one may add Villejuif in the Val-de-Marne, which has been Communist since the 1920s but was taken by the UMP, whose list, in a merger contre nature, included a local EELV fed up with the eternal PCF rule over the town; among the renegade Villejuifois écolos was the gauchiste economist Alain Lipietz (he and the others have been suspended from the EELV for their transgression). My (Algerian origin) in-laws there are no doubt content with the outcome (I’ll have to call them this week), BTW, as their property taxes will most certainly not be raised by the new UMP-led administration.

Local taxes were a big issue in this election and across the board. They’ve gone up significantly and just about everywhere, in communes run by the right as well as the left. E.g. in my very right-wing banlieue, the taxe d’habitation has increased by at least 25%—maybe even more (I’d have to do the calculation)—since the 2008 election, and which was one of the factors in the defeat of the incumbent mayor (UDI/ex-UMP) at the hands of his erstwhile (UMP) associate-turned-rival. The ras-le-bol over inexorably rising local taxes will be a big challenge to all the new mayors, as they try to maintain local services plus deal with already high municipal indebtedness.

As for the Front National, it won 11 communes. If one hasn’t yet seen the list, go here, here, or here. Notable FN victories include Marseille’s 7th sector, with a population of 150K—it will be interesting to see how the new FN mayor, Stéphane Ravier, gets along with the neighboring 8th sector mayor, la très forte en gueule Algerian-origin Samia Ghali (the only PS tête de liste to win a Marseille sector yesterday)—; Hayange in the Moselle, a dying industrial town and site of ArcelorMittal’s recently shuttered steel blast furnaces that President Hollande promised to save but could not—and whose FN mayor-elect, Fabien Engelmann, is a former trade unionist (in the formerly Communist-run CGT, from which he was expelled for joining the FN)—; and Mantes-la-Ville in the Île-de-France (Yvelines), whose FN list squeaked through to victory due to the (incomprehensible and inexcusable) inability of the two rival left lists (PS and divers gauche) to merge between the two rounds—and, irony of ironies, the mayoral candidate of one having been physically manhandled by Jean-Marie Le Pen in an infamous incident in 1997.

But it wasn’t a slam dunk for the FN yesterday, as party heavyweights Florian Philippot and Louis Aliot (Marine LP’s current S.O.) failed to win Forbach and Perpignan respectively, and Gilbert Collard bit the dust in Saint-Gilles. And it needs to be reiterated that Robert Ménard’s victorious list in Béziers was only supported by the FN, with a number of its conseillers municipaux-elect—including Ménard himself—not being FN members.

IDE-FranceMunicipales-FN-Ligue-Sud-01

Marine Le Pen and other FN leaders swear that they’ve learned from the fiasco of the FN’s local government experience in the 1995-2002 period—notably in Toulon, Vitrolles, and Marignane—, which was marked by incompetence, amateurism, and corruption—not to mention initiatives such as serving pork dishes only in school cafeterias catering to Muslim students—, and won’t repeat the mistakes. Frontiste communes will, it is promised, be governed more responsibly and professionally this time. On verra. One of the first issues the mayor-elect in Fréjus, 26-year-old David Rachline, will have to deal with is the project—currently underway—to build a mosque in the commune. One would assume that FN mayors, echoing the rhetoric of Marine LP, will take a hard-line against expressions and manifestations of “communautarisme,” a neologism that, translated into American, refers to the asserting of ethnic identities by persons of post-colonial immigrant roots, i.e. from North and Sub-Saharan Africa, and which the dominant French ethos—shared by right and left alike—considers to be a bad thing (but only when it involves communities hailing from the African continent; no one cares if it’s the Portuguese, Armenians, or even Vietnamese or Chinese who do it). The younger generations from these communities are more educated, organized, and assertive in expressing ethnic identities nowadays than in the past, so if FN mairies try to pick a fight with them, a fight they will get.

In an analysis of the elections last night, Art Goldhammer wondered if the real political problem in France is less the failings of François Hollande—or of Nicolas Sarkozy before him—than of the French presidency itself, of its seeming omnipotence and the outsized expectations this generates, and that inevitably leads to disappointments on the part of the electorate. Art is absolutely right on this. As he points out, the constitution of the Fifth Republic was tailor-made for one man, Charles de Gaulle, a larger than life historical figure who returned to power at a time of grave national crisis—the Algerian war—and when France needed a strong executive who could assert primacy over the legislative branch of government (and also a seditiously-inclined military). But that historical moment is gone and not only is there no one with the stature of de Gaulle—il n’y a plus de grands hommes—but there is no justification nowadays for an advanced democracy to concentrate so much power (hors cohabitation) in the hands of the executive. It worked more or less for François Mitterrand, though he was saved by the first cohabitation, which paved the way for his reelection, and with his interminable second term ending in failure. Jacques Chirac’s presidency was a failure from almost the get go (and with him winning reelection on a silver platter thanks to the accident of the 21 avril). And the bilan of Sarkozy’s presidency—and now Hollande’s—requires no elaboration. In the case of Sarkozy and Hollande, plus Chirac during his brain-dead second term, the perversity of the omnipotent presidency has been aggravated by the quinquennat and the accident of the electoral calendar, in which the presidential and legislative elections happen one month apart, and with legislative following the presidential—a sequencing that was decided in a law passed by Lionel Jospin’s gauche plurielle government after the 2000 referendum and was supported by the UDF (but not Chirac’s RPR). What this did was permanently hitch the fortunes of the National Assembly—elected in the wake in the presidential election, axiomatically giving the newly elected president a majority—, thus rendering it even more powerless vis-à-vis the President of the Republic. The latter calls all the shots. The problem is institutional, not linked to the personality of whoever happens to be the chief resident in the Elysée palace. So in view of the omnipotence of the President of the Republic and the expectations of the French people that he will solve all the problems—and at a time when France, which has no control over its own currency, has less power on the European and world stage than ever, and with an increasingly uncompetitive economy—, it is inevitable that his poll ratings will plummet almost as soon as he takes office and his party massacred in intermediate elections.

The next elections—after May’s European—are the regionals, in March 2015. The PS controls 21 of 22 regions in metropolitan France. Anyone want to take bets on how many they’ll be left with after that one?

ADDENDUM: The abstention rate yesterday was 38%, which is historically high for a municipal election. But the turnout was nonetheless higher than for other types of elections, notably the European. And way higher than one would ever see in an off year election in the US. If the upcoming American midterm elections could attain such a turnout, the outcome would be very different than the one we’re likely to get (and less favorable to the Republicans). Just sayin’.

UPDATE: Rue89′s Pascal Riché explains—with a certain dose of mauvaise foi, he admits—why yesterday’s result was, in fact, a setback for the Front National. Not a bad analysis, actually.

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There’s almost no question about it: the Socialists are going to get massacred. They could lose as many as 100 communes with a population of 10K or more. The PS’s dense network of local elected officials will be decimated. Whatever governmental remaniement President Hollande cooks up next week will be bien dérisoire in the face of such a monumental setback. Socialist voters are so demoralized and exasperated with their president—it is nigh impossible to find anyone on the left these days who will stand up for Monsieur Hollande—that they will most certainly repeat last Sunday’s performance and stay away in droves from the polls.

The UMP will do very well, of course, but all eyes will be on Marine Le Pen’s Front National, which, according to the above map, has a good shot at picking up seven communes—with Béziers and Forbach all but certain—, in addition to Hénin-Beaumont and Orange (whose mayor, Jacques Bompard—re-elected last Sunday with 60%—, quit the FN a decade ago but is no less a facho than when he first won the town in 1995). But the FN and its extreme right allies could, in fact, win as many as 20 municipalities, including several that the map forgot to include: Beaucaire (Gard), Bollène (Vaucluse)—whose incumbent mayor, Marie-Claude Bompard, is not formally FN but is politically identical to her husband in nearby Orange—, Brignoles (Var), Cluses (Haute-Savoie), Cogolin (Var), Hayange (Moselle), Le Luc (Var), Le Pontet (Vaucluse), L’Hôpital (Moselle), Marseille’s 7th sector, Tarascon (Bouches-de-Rhône), Villeneuve-sur-Lot (Lot-et-Garonne), and Villers-Cotterêts (Aisne). To these one may add Villeneuve-Saint-George in the suburban Parisian Val-de-Marne (and near where I live), where the 2nd place divers droite list—which had been endorsed by the UMP and UDI—merged with the 3rd place FN against the PCF-led incumbents. If the FN wins most of these, it will be a political earthquake equivalent to the PS’s débâcle annoncée. It does appear, though, that Avignon will be spared the FN, with the fusion of the PS and Front de Gauche lists there.

For an idea of what may lie in store for communes under FN rule, see this Rue89 enquête from two months ago, on Jacques Bompard’s reign in Orange, “Orange, 20 ans d’extrême droite: «Les cœurs se sont fermés».” Persons of Maghrebi and African immigrant origin—and particularly those who live in public housing—will wish they lived somewhere else.

And on Hénin-Beaumont’s new frontiste mayor, Steeve Briois, see this one by Claude Askolovitch in Rue89, “Quand Steeve Briois, 15 ans, jubilait dans un bus rempli d’immigrés,” in which Askolovitch reproduces a passage from his (excellent) 1999 book Voyage au bout de la France: Le Front National tel qu’il est, recounting his experience of following Briois, then a teenage FN activist, around the declining industrial towns of the Pas-de-Calais. Briois, who hails from the couches populaires, developed a youthful antipathy toward his generational contemporaries of Maghreb origin, i.e. the punk was a racist from the get go. Now people do grow up and evolve in their ways of thinking. Or they don’t.

Also in Rue89 is this very interesting reportage of the FN’s campaign in Marseille’s 7th sector (13th-14th arrondissements), “La tentation du FN à Marseille: «Il faut bien leur faire peur»,” which may yield it victory tomorrow. One learns, entre autres, that a certain number of Maghrebi voters, driven by opposition to the gay marriage law or simply because they are totally fed up, voted FN. What is clear is that the FN simply does not strike fear in the hearts and minds of a significant portion of the electorate, including voters of immigrant origin who would normally have reason to fear it.

One will have noted that the majority of communes that the FN stands to win are in the southeast. On the regional cleavage in the FN vote, geographer Laurent Chalard, whom I linked to in my previous post on the election, had a good op-ed in Le Monde earlier this week on “Les failles stratégiques du Front national,” in which he discussed the contradictions at the heart of Marine Le Pen’s and the FN’s discourse as they strive to address constituencies with fundamentally divergent revindications: the FN’s traditional middle class/petit bourgeois base in the southeast, which is opposed to state intervention, taxes, and Parisian bureaucrats; and working class voters in the northeast, who fear globalization and favor state intervention in the economy to protect their jobs or restore them. How the FN manages this contradiction—and if the mainstream parties of the left and right can exploit it to undermine the frontistes—will have a significant impact on the party’s fortunes in the coming period.

As I did last Sunday, I’ll be working a bureau de vote all day tomorrow as an assesseur titulaire in my commune (where the local right-wing is tearing itself apart in a fratricidal war, as it always does in local elections). À suivre.

ADDENDUM: The blog 500 Signatures: French Politics & Elections Blog of political scientists Jocelyn Evans and Gilles Ivaldi is closely tracking the FN’s electoral progress, and with lots of data and statistical analyses.

ErdoganGulen

The website of the French journal Esprit has a lengthy interview (en français), “La fin de l’illusion turque,” with Ahmet Insel, who teaches economics and politics at Galatasaray University in Istanbul (and is a founder of the İletişim publishing house). It’s one of the most interesting analyses I’ve read of late on the current political situation in Turkey, and notably on the conflict between RT Erdoğan and the Gülen movement, and the role of the military in this. Insel says that an AKP national vote of 45% or above in tomorrow’s municipal elections—which he deems probable—will represent a big victory for Erdoğan, providing him with the legitimacy to launch an all-out offensive against the Gülenists (not to mention anyone else he feels like going after). But in the (improbable) event that the AKP wins less than 40%, many AKP militants will start looking to a post-Erdoğan era and which may provoke a split within the party, such that the AKP could lose its current majority in the Grand National Assembly.

But whatever happens in tomorrow’s elections

le Premier ministre restera condamné à une posture défensive. Il va passer le reste de sa vie politique à craindre l’ouverture de nouveaux dossiers, la publication de nouvelles preuves accablantes. Qu’elle soit lente, en passant par une phase «poutinienne», ou rapide en cas de défaite aux élections locales, la chute de M. Erdogan est inéluctable.

Sooner rather than later, inshallah.

What Insel has to say to about the Kurdish question is also most interesting. Erdoğan wants to cut a deal with the PKK but his hands are being tied by various domestic actors, not the least of whom is the nationalist Turkish public, i.e. the AKP base, and its ethnic conception of the Turkish nation.

Insel, who is quite smart, also has an interview in today’s Libération, “Turquie: «Erdogan est mortellement blessé, mais il ne tombera pas tout de suite».”

2009 municipal elections

2009 municipal elections

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Geographer Laurent Chalard, who teaches at the Université Paris-IV Sorbonne, has an analysis in Figaro Vox of the significant drop in support for the PS last Sunday from voters of immigrant origin. The abstention rates in communes with concentrations of Maghrebis and Africans reached record levels, notably in the Seine-Saint-Denis (a.k.a. le neuf-trois), Paris’s 18th-19th-20th arrondissements, Marseille’s 8th sector (les quartiers nord), and Lyon’s eastern banlieues, and with Socialist-led lists taking a disproportionate hit. Voter participation rates have always been lower than average for these populations and for structural reasons, which Chalard mentions: a voting-age population that is both disproportionately younger and less educated, and with lower levels of political mobilization via intermediate groups or the parties themselves. The latter point I can attest to from personal observation: in my mostly middle/upper middle class banlieue, the only parties/candidates who actively solicit votes in the one cité in town are from the Front de Gauche. The others don’t bother, deeming that there are few votes to be had there—which is the case with the right—or, as with the Socialists and écolos, because they’re not comfortable with ethnic-style campaigning and don’t have a populist economic message to compensate for that, so leave the cités to other parties of the left.

A second factor identified by Chalard for the high abstention rate is the government’s policies and discourse on questions de société, i.e. on issues having to do with social mores, notably gay marriage. Voters of Maghrebi and African origin may be on the left when it comes to the economy but are culturally conservative; thus the opposition by Muslim personalities and groups to the mariage pour tous law last year and the disproportionate hysteria in the banlieues over the so-called “théorie du genre” during that preposterous episode early last month. Chalard’s hypothesis is plausible but I’m dubious. It’s still the economy, stupid, and with the immigrant-origin communities—which are inadequately socialized politically and alienated from the system as it is—affected by unemployment even more than the rest of French society.

Mediapart has had two enquêtes over the past two days on the disaffection of immigrant-origin voters in the current election cycle and their defiance toward the Socialists, one on the Seine-Saint-Denis, the other from Marseille.

The Socialists’s adversaries in the Seine-Saint-Denis are not only the right—UMP and UDI (the FN is not a factor in the department)—but also the PCF/Front de Gauche. The PS, which made big gains in the department in the 2008 elections and at the expense of the Communists, had high hopes of knocking off the latter in several communes but suffered a setback on Sunday, notably in Montreuil—where National Assembly deputy and rising star Razzy Hammadi was eliminated from the 2nd round and with a humiliating fifth place finish—, Saint-Denis—the PCF’s last remaining municipality of over 100K inhabitants, which it has been running almost continuously since the 1920s—, Saint-Ouen, and Villetaneuse, and with Aubervilliers and Bagnolet in the balance. And the UMP/UDI have a strong chance of taking Bobigny—the neuf-trois prefecture and longtime PCF bastion, the loss of which to the right would be hugely symbolic—, Aulnay-sous-Bois—whose très droitier UMP tête de liste, Bruno Beschizza, is a former police officer—, Le Blanc Mesnil—which has been PCF since the 1930s—, Livry-Gargan, and Villepinte.

As for Bobigny, the UDI mayoral candidate, Stéphane di Paoli, seems to be running a smart campaign, at least judging from his list of candidates to the city council, which includes a woman wearing an Islamic headscarf and who is prominently displayed in the campaign’s main poster. And it’s getting publicity outside the commune, as one may see in this dispatch in the high-profile Franco-Islamic website Oumma.com. The video of the exchange between the communist militant and young veiled woman is worth the watch. The latter manifestly understands the meaning of French laïcité more than does the former. If I were a Balbynien, I’d likely vote for Monsieur di Paoli.

ADDENDUM: Here’s a post of mine on “the Muslim vote” in the 2012 presidential election, which one poll had at 93% for François Hollande (far more a rejection of Sarkozy than an affirmative vote for Hollande). In the Seine-Saint-Denis, Hollande received 65% in the 2nd round against Sarko (N.B. not everyone in the neuf-trois is of post-colonial immigrant-origin or from the couches populaires; there are plenty of regular “white” Frenchmen and women out there).

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