October 24, 2014

Letter From Paris: Two Local Elections — Two Remarkably Different Outcomes

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Local elections have just taken place in Turkey and in France. The outcomes of the elections speak a great deal about these two countries .

Primeminister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, already in power for 12 years, is showing no intention of stepping down. His aura at the polls was barely affected by the scandals and accusations of wrong-doing. Particularly the violent repression of the popular manifestations on Istanbul Taksim Square, the allegations of frauds directed not only at him, but at his family, the murky circumstances of score settlings.

His recent strategy includes the taking over 85 percent of the main TV channel and the curbing of social networks like Twitter or Facebook. Nevertheless Erdogan’s party, the AKP (Party of Justice and Development), passed the test of the polls with flying colors, not acknowledging the distress of the public opinion. These events did not speak much for the democratic system of that country and should constitute a red flag for the 28 EU members next time Turkey knocks at their door.

In contrast, the French municipales (local elections) were a reflection of the French opinion’s strong disapproval of the policy of the Francois Hollande government and brought on major changes.

The municipales, are always an important and colorful event in France, when mayors and council members of 36,500 communes (towns) are elected for six years. But this time they turned into a tsunami, which modified the political landscape of the country. The vague bleue (blue wave ) showing the gains of the Right and even the vague bleue marine (navy blue wave ) named after Marine Le Pen, head of the far right Front National. Just a few figures: in 2008 in the towns of more than 10,000 inhabitants, the Left had 509 mayors and the Right 433. In 2004, the Left was reduced to 349 and the Right grew to 572. Emblematic was the town of Limoges, which had voted socialist since 1912, and turned conservative.

Paris resisted this tidal wave and remained socialist. Incumbent Mayor Bertrand Delanoe had groomed his assistant Anne Hidalgo to be his successor. Together, they engaged in an intensive and efficient campaign. The Mayor of Paris is elected according to a special system of voting in three rounds. The first two rounds each Parisian vote for the mayor and council in each arrondissement. Then mayors and councils vote for the mayor of Paris. The fight to the finish between Anne Hidalgo and her conservative opponent Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet , was fierce, to say the least. The former won by 53.34 over 44.06 percent.

The map of Paris to-day is made up of two halves: a blue west, and a red east. With 11 versus nine arrondissements, Hidalgo leads but not as much as Jacques Chirac did in 1983 when he won all of them. These results will be important in the next senatorial elections since the members of the Senat (high chamber) are elected by the mayors.

Barely 24 hours after the closing of the polls, president François Hollande appeared on TV. He declared that he had heard and understood the people’s message of disapproval of the policy he conducted since 2012. He reassured his audience that appropriate measures would be taken.

A day later he announced the remaniement (reshuffle) of the government. The soft spoken, kind-looking prime minister Jean Marc Ayrault was replaced by tough and energetic Manuel Valls, former minister of the interior. The number of ministers was trimmed down from 38 to 16 and the parity men/women respected. The new ministers are more experienced and some of the “heavyweights” remained, like Laurent Fabius, at the Foreign Affairs desk.

The decision concerning Bercy (ministry of Finances and Economy) was crucial given the urgency to reduce the budget deficit and increase the competitivité (competitiveness) of the French industry. The new prime minister Manuel Valls decided to split the responsibilities between two ministers: Michel Papin handling Budget and Finances , Arnaud Montebourg becoming minister of Economy. This will be a “hot” area since France has to work in a partnership with Brussels.

Ségolène Royal Ségolène Royal

The second spectacular move was the nomination of Ségolène Royal as the minister of Ecology, Sustainable Industry and Energy. She will rank as number three in the new cabinet. She is an old timer, particularly in the environmental field. Her appearance in the courtyard of Hotel de Matignon made quite a splash. Royal is a highly educated woman, used to be Hollande’s companion for 29 years, the mother of their four children and the last contestant for the presidency against Sarkozy in 2002. Her appointment will be helpful to Valls’ government because she brings her strong connections to the lower working class with her.

The outspoken Housing minister Cecile Duflot left the Matignon in a huff and a puff , showing her overwhelming dislike for Valls. Her colleagues in the Green party at the Assemblée Nationale, were upset by her move as they were willing to work within the cabinet.

The overhaul of the new government was greeted by salvos of criticisms and gibes from the UMP and naturally from the extreme parties – this is normal in France. However, the composition of the new government was interpreted, by more unbiased analysts, as the determination to follow the road map set out by François Hollande at the Jan. 14 press conference and to keep the course on the Pacte de Responsabilité, but to implement it with more determination, more speed and more pedagogy.

Failure is not an option and Brussels will not ease off the pressure.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also will cover a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.