Last January 22 and 29, primary elections for the election of the candidate for President of the Republic of the French Socialist Party (PSF) next May were held. And the result has made clear that the militants who have participated have mainly supported the rebel leftist sector, known as “the frondists” since late 2014, represented by the figure of the former minister of Education Benoît Hannon, against the guardian of the politics’ essences under years of ruling of the president Hollande and his reforms, represented in the primaries, after the desertion of François Hollande, by the ex prime minister Manuel Valls, head of the group of militants known as “the reformists”.
In general, the 2017 socialist primaries have been quite disappointing in many aspects. When they were called last autumn, they were intended to be the forum for discussion and creation of a new political platform which regrouped all the candidates of the leftist forces, since they were open to candidates external to the very PSF. They thought about assembling candidates of associated parties of the Valls Government, like the PRG or the EELV, and even more radical forces like FG or NPA, with the objective to get a unit candidate by May. But soon candidates like Jean Luc Mélenchon, Christine Poupin and even Emmanuel Macron rejected said option and only the PRG leader, Sylvia Pinel, the PE leader, François de Rugy, and the FD leader, Jean Luc Bennahmias, finally participated in these primaries with the own candidates, which were Hamon, Valls, Vicent Peillon and Arnaud Montebourg, the first leader of the frondist rebels in 2014.
The first round last January 22 set the trends of what was going to happen. In spite of the mobilization efforts of the socialists, 1.6 million people officially voted, which contrasted with the expected 2 million. Benoìt Hamon was the most voted with some more than 569,000 votes and 36.5%, and his rival in the second round would be Manuel Valls, with 31.9% of the votes (a little more than 521,000 votes). The surprise was this second place of the Prime Minister and the elimination of the mentor of the rebels, Mountebourg, who was eliminated with only 290,000 votes and 17.7%. But that same night, the duel was quite resolved when Mountebourg and Peillon called Hamon to vote as the candidate, which assured the majority for him. Only Pinel asked the vote for Valls, so all was closed for the second round of January, 29. Hamon, with 58.7% (1.18 million votes), set over Valls (830,000 votes and 41.1%) in the second round.
In spite of the calls for the unity of the party and of the progressive forces of Hamon, the internal divergences have quickly surfaced. Due to the role that the very candidate and the former minister Mountebourg had in the rebellion of the socialist deputies against the projects of the Valls Government since March, 2014, leading the resistance movement of the deputies – who publicly took sides against the laws presented by the Government and took it twice to the brink of the motion of censure. Currently, the frondists have between 40 and 60 deputies (including Hamon) and the reformists between 60 and 80 of a total both of 273 deputies. In these circumstances, last January 31, a reunion of the socialist parliamentary group was called to try to close wounds and start the negotiations for a wide leftist candidature with the ecologists, the radicals and the radical left groups to prevent the scenario of not having any candidates of this ideology in the second round of the presidential elections.
With this landscape, it is Hamon’s time. He must show himself as a leader able to get out of his position of extremist touching the obstructionist filibustering which has been practicing for almost three years, trying to stop the legislative bills of President Holland and the Valls Cabinet, when the internal bickering doesn’t seem easy to close in the few weeks that are left for the start of the electoral campaign for the presidential election. Many moderates do not forgive their flamboyant candidate the damage he has caused to the public image (most of all by signing for the motion of censure of the Valls government in May 2016) and now he will have to be flexible and conciliatory to prevent many socialist moderates from supporting the independent candidate from the center, Emmanuel Macron, former Minister of Economy of the Valls Cabinet and who seems to be the major rival of François Fillon for the second place to dispute the presidential charge to Marine Le Pen.
There have already been some socialist supports for Macron and his movement since Hamon was selected, few days ago, so he will have to rush and seal up the leakage of center-left votes. Moreover, he also has problems in the side of the radical left, since Melenchon doesn’t seem to be near to close an agreement with the socialists before the presidential elections in May, and he would only consider it for the legislative elections in June, which doesn’t help Hamon to fix his problem in the surveys, which always place him out of the second round of the presidential elections, by accrediting between 12% and 15% of the votes in the first round, remaining in fourth or fifth place.
Everything seems quite discouraging for this socialist candidate, but let’s not forget that Hamon is a man of the party since he was 17 years old, he was the great renewing leader of the French Socialist Youth in the 80s and he has been a politician who has ascended all the tiers of power until he finally became minister in 2014, even though his differences with Valls caused that this governing experience was reduced to a few months after he declared himself against the turn to the reformist center of the French socialist leaders. Now he has been able to impose his political approach to the PSF, but he will have to seduce moderate and extremist voters at the same time if he wants to survive as a political leader. It won’t be easy and he doesn’t have much time to do so. But the weakness of the candidate Fillon and the lack of experience of the candidate Macron give him a chance. Anyway, we will know it soon.