First Round of French Socialist Primaries a Surprise

Hollande did worse than polls predicted; Marine Aubry did better; both are pro Israel. Far left Montebourg surprised everyone.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 10/11/2011, 11:51 AM

A funny thing happened to the French Socialist party on its way back to the Elysee presidential palace and a presidency that the Socialists have not held since 1995.

All members of the French left who wanted to influence the selection of the Socialist candidate could vote in an open primary whose first ballot took place yesterday (Monday).

The idea was that a primary would create buzz (it did), generate revenue and cement party ties to voters who were granted active participation in the nomination process. This would convince floating voters to stick with the party during next year's general election as well.

Perhaps it would allow voters of the left to stop voting for extreme and unelectable candidates during the primary season, avoiding such embarrassments in the general election (as occurred in 2002).

According to the polls, things were proceeding according to plan.

The front-runner, Francois Hollande, was racking up scores in the low 40s in the polls, while Martine Aubrey, his main opponent, was scoring in the mid-20s.

If the polls held up during the actual vote, then Hollande, even if he would not gain an outright majority on the first ballot (given the plethora of candidates, a virtual mission impossible anyway), he would have no difficulty seeing off Madame Aubrey on the second and final balance.

Then the triumphant march would resume, culminating with Hollande disposing of president Nicolas Sarkozy. The other candidates, with the possible exception of the party's standardbearer in 2007 Segolene Royal, were considered mere extras.

The script broke down when results of the first round were announced.

Hollande was held to under 40% while Martine Aubry broke 30%.

However, the big surprise was the showing of Arnaud Montebourg who scored 15.6%, seemingly conferring upon him the role of kingmaker on the second ballot.

As  Aubry was to the left of Hollande and Montebourg was to the  left of Aubry, it was a plausible assumption that if Montebourg's voters stuck around for the second ballot, they were most likely to transfer their support to Martine Aubry. Suddenly there were the makings of a contest.

Montebourg has already written to Hollande and Aubry, requesting that they state their position on certain issues. Montebourg's big issue during the campaign was anti-globalization.  

Hollande remarked "I don't share that vocabulary I understand that school of thought … Undoubtedly on a certain number of points globalization has its limits. It was necessary to display firmness with regards to certain countries such as China, but this could only be done on the European level."

The governing UMP party is ready to swoop down on any appearance that the Socialist leaders are appeasing Arnauld Montebourg.

If his anti-globalization positions were accommodated, France would become the laughing stock of the entire world. The only one who shared this approach in French politics was the candidate of the far right Marine Le Pen.

Up to now, the French Socialists have benefitted from the primary process without any of the candidates inflict damaging blows on each other that could be exploited by the party's opponents.

The Socialists hope that this state of affairs can last till next Sunday's second ballot.

On Israel, both Hollande and Aubry have come out strongly against boycotting Israel. Aubry, who is the mayor of Lille, has revived her city's twin relationship with Safad after her anti-Israel predecessor froze it.