Nicolas Sarkozy’s political party is fighting to keep recriminations and rivalries in check for at least another six weeks to prevent President-elect Francois Hollande’s Socialists from taking control of Parliament.
The split in Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement turns on whether to cut deals with Marine Le Pen’s anti-euro National Front for the two-round parliamentary elections on June 10-17. Her party remains offensive to many in the mainstream because it was founded by her Holocaust-questioning father, Jean-Marie.
“The breakup of the UMP is inevitable after Sarkozy lost,” said Laurent Dubois, a professor at Paris-based Institute of Political Studies. “The UMP lived thanks to Sarkozy and it will die thanks to Sarkozy. The party faces a real handicap in the legislative vote.”
The Socialists and their allies would take 44 percent of the vote for the 577-seat National Assembly, the UMP and its allies 36.5 percent, and the National Front 18 percent, according to an Ifop poll the day of the presidential election. The poll, for magazine Paris Match and radio station Europe 1, questioned 968 people. No margin of error was given.
A majority would enable Hollande to push through a program that includes raising taxes, increasing spending, imposing a 75 percent levy on incomes above 1 million euros ($1.3 million), and returning the minimum retirement age to 60 from 62.
The Socialists control the Senate and 21 of 22 regions in mainland France. The UMP holds 305 seats in the National Assembly against the Socialists’ 197. Hollande’s win over Sarkozy on May 6 gave his party the presidency for the first time since 1995.
UMP leaders clashed last week when Gerard Longuet, the defense minister in Sarkozy’s outgoing government, said that Le Pen, who took 17.9 percent in the first round of the presidential vote, was a negotiating partner for the parliamentary elections. Local UMP officials in the south, where the National Front has been strong for two decades, have periodically called for electoral alliances.
Jean-Paul Garraud, a UMP deputy from near Bordeaux, said in a May 7 statement, that the party had to be “pragmatic” and not “ideological” about alliances with the National Front.
Jean-Francois Cope, the head of the UMP, rejected any deal. “There won’t be an alliance of any nature, nor discussions, with the National Front,” Cope said on May 7. “Our political family is totally united.”
The issue of whether to create alliances in the legislative elections results from a quirk in the system. In the presidential election, the top two vote getters in the first round -- assuming neither gets 50 percent -- face off in the run-off. For the assembly, candidates with over 12.5 percent qualify for the second round if no one breaches 50 percent.
The consequence is a series of three-way races where refusing an alliance between the UMP and the National Front could hand a seat to a Socialist candidate.
In the first round of the presidential elections, Le Pen won more than 12.5 percent in 353 parliamentary constituencies, 61 percent of the total. She won in 21 constituencies. In the second round, Hollande won 333 districts and Sarkozy won 244, according to the Interior Ministry.
In the second round, 54 percent of Le Pen’s first-round voters opted for Sarkozy, according to a poll by Ifop that questioned 1,968 voters on election day.
“There’s a risk that all powers will be handed to the left as a result of deadly triangular contests in the legislatives,” Garraud wrote in his statement.
Le Pen has made it clear she’s counting on a break-up of the UMP. “The future is a recomposition of French politics,” she told supporters at a Paris rally May 1. “You are now the center of gravity of French politics.”
Ranking UMP members, such as former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Higher Education Minister Laurent Wauquiez, have expressed disquiet about Sarkozy’s emphasis on issues close to the National Front, such as immigration and national identity.
While there was common ground on law-and-order issues, the parties disagree on others. Le Pen wants France out the euro, while Sarkozy is one of the architects of Europe’s efforts to save the common currency. Sarkozy wants to cut immigration in half to 100,000 a year, while Le Pen wants to cut it to 10,000 a year. Le Pen favors giving preference to French citizens for jobs and housing; Sarkozy says that’s unconstitutional.
Unlike the U.S.’s two political parties, or Germany’s Social Democrats, who date to the 19th century, the UMP is a recent creation. It was formed in 2002 as a merger of parties backing president Jacques Chirac and was initially called Union for a Presidential Majority. The Socialists date to 1905 though it took its current name in 1969. Marine’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen created the National Front in 1972.
The elections for parliament won’t be the last vote for the UMP. In the autumn, Cope’s term as party head comes up for review with Sarkozy’s Prime Minister Francois Fillon among the probable challengers. Sarkozy has said he will leave politics after his defeat.
“Once there is a defeat, the people in political parties try to position themselves and there is a risk of division,” said Antonio Barroso, an analyst at Eurasia Group. “It’s a classic.”