As summer ends, turbulent French political scene heats up

President Francois Hollande

President Francois Hollande

Summer holidays may be over but the return to reality is proving heated in French politics with the ruling party and opposition riven by divisions and the extreme right shaken by a family feud.

It is against this turbulent political backdrop that the deeply unpopular President Francois Hollande will hold his twice yearly press conference on Monday.

A poll published last week showed that 18 months from the next presidential vote, only 20 percent of French voters would like to see Hollande re-elected.

With unemployment figures stubbornly high and an economy in the doldrums, analysts say Hollande is leaning heavily on the hopes of clinching a tricky climate deal at UN talks in Paris in December to boost his presidency.

“He has very limited wiggle room on all fronts. He will play the international card but it won’t have any impact,” said political analyst Philippe Braud.

The French leader is also expected to commit to lowering taxes next year to offer some two billion euros ($2.2 billion) of relief to voters.

However he remains hamstrung by his inability to halt the rise in the number of jobless, which has remained stuck at 10 percent.

Hollande has promised he will not seek a second term in 2017 elections if he fails to improve employment figures.

The country’s economic woes and government’s efforts to address them have led to deep divisions in his centre-left Socialist Party (PS), where some accuse Hollande of shifting to the right.

Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron had to force a package of reforms to kickstart the economy through parliament to avoid coming up against leftist party rebels and has raised ire for questioning the country’s sacrosanct 35-hour work week.

The PS has been routed in all elections held in the past three years and is facing a fresh walloping in regional elections in December which will be a crucial litmus test for the presidential poll in 2017.

Meanwhile the Greens (EELV) — who allied with the PS in the 2012 presidential election — have lost several high-level defectors and are divided over alliances in the upcoming regional elections.


– ‘Armed peace’ on the right –


While editorialists bemoan a “left in tatters”, the right-wing opposition is not faring much better.

The recently rebranded party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, now known as The Republicans, is trying to put up a united front ahead of regional elections, but party titans are divided in their race for the presidency.

After a humiliating loss to Hollande in 2012, Sarkozy returned to frontline politics to lead the party but rivals such as popular former prime minister Alain Juppe are still jockeying to win primary elections planned for 2016.

“The armed peace is likely to last for a while. The first to draw will weaken his position. Things will begin to move after the regional elections,” said Braud.

Analysts have said the 2017 election could end up a race between The Republicans and the far-right National Front (FN) — flying high after making gains in local and European elections.


– Migrant crisis factor –


The anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic FN is also riding a wave of tensions in France over thousands of migrants and refugees trying to enter Europe.

“The migrant crisis is going to carry weight. It is increasing feelings of compassion toward the migrants but at the same time the influx is creating fear,” said Braud.

Jean-Daniel Levy of polling institute Harris Interactiv said it will be interesting to see how the migrant crisis will mould public debate in the coming months.

“The French are torn between the view they may have about the migrants and the idea that France cannot shirk its responsibilities as a ‘welcoming haven’,” he said.

The FN is eyeing victory in four or five regions in the December polls.

However, leader Marine Le Pen’s efforts to soften the image of the party since she took over in 2011 has led to an all-out dynastic war with her father who founded the FN.

The 87-year-old firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen was ousted from the party over his inflammatory comments and has now formed his own movement, dubbed the “Blue White and Red Rally” after the colours of the French flag.


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