How the far right ended up in the French Senate

As if French President François Hollande did not have enough misfortunes, elections for the senate dealt him another blow. Three years after Holland’s socialists won the very first majority for the left in the upper house, the right has taken over an assembly it believes to be its own. And even worse, among those elected to the seats to be won are two members of the far-right National Front of Marine Le Pen.

The right and the far right have capitalized on the unique way the Senate is elected to shake Hollande up. In these complex competitions, seats can only be won with a few hundred votes and this is how Marine Le Pen’s party won this time.

How the Senate works

The senatorial election is a good barometer of political opinion in France. In the lower house – the National Assembly – only one member is elected for each constituency but in the upper house, several senators are elected for each of the 101 administrative departments of the country. The number of seats is loosely related to the size of the population of the department. So while some departments only have one seat, the largest has 12.

Senators are not elected by the people but by a college made up mostly of members of 36,000 French municipal councils. Members of departmental and regional councils and, perhaps oddly enough, lower house deputies also vote, but these city councilors make up 95% of colleges.

The number of delegates depends on the size of a city council, determined by a sliding scale. The smaller one sends two, but in the larger towns, the whole council votes. Cities with over 30,000 residents also get extra votes from what you might call fleeting voters. These additional delegates are recruited for a single day to vote for senators. Due to their short political lives, these mayflies tend to be rather docile and are often very predictable voters.

So, although in theory all members of the quorum were elected by the population as local councilors, many were not in fact. These college members often follow the orders of their political leaders, such as the local mayor or prominent local figures.

In regions with a weak electorate, a senator can be elected with only 150 votes, as happened in Paris in 2011. This year, the National Front won a seat in Bouches-du-Rhône department around Marseille with only 431 votes. The other party seat was obtained in the neighboring department of Var, where the mayor of Fréjus, David rachline entered the Senate on the back of 401 votes.

With all of these factors in play, the success of the right was largely predictable in this election. In the spring of this year, the French went to the polls for the municipal elections – the first time they had voted since Hollande’s election to the Elysee Palace. The left has not only performed poorly, but has ceded ground to the far right in town halls and town halls. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how the Front National reached the upper house this time around.

In the aftermath of the election, the UMP, the main right-wing party, made a net gain of 15 and will expect to have 145 seats, while the Socialists lost 15 seats and ended up with a total of 113. It is not always. reliable allies from the center and the far left lost ten seats together, retaining 30 seats in total. The Greens have occupied their ten seats, which will reassure Hollande.

The Front National has two seats but, more importantly, it won nearly 4,000 votes across the country, a huge increase from the 700 votes it won in 2011. The center-right UDI will also be delighted to have it. to have gained seven seats to hold 38 in the total.

Presidential watch

These results will also have a significant impact on the impending election of a Senate Speaker on October 1. This is an important function. In France, where there is no vice-president, the president intervenes in the event of the resignation or death of a president.

Jean-Pierre Bel, the first socialist to preside over the upper house, did not represent himself. Indeed, he was one of 58 senators who resigned, a much higher than normal proportion, but part of a trend in an institution that has undergone great changes over the past decade.

Bel’s successor could be former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin or former Senate President Gérard Larcher. The two men are from the UMP, but the support of the former for the return of Nicolas Sarkozy to the presidency of the party could well work against him. A third figure, UMP Senator Philippe Marini, is also in the running.

Despite these results and whatever the outcome of the president’s vote, Hollande and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls can continue to govern because the National Assembly always takes precedence over the Senate, unless a question of constitutional reform is on the table. table. But the Senate matters. He shows the leadership of local councils and creates positions of power for many people. It is, as a former right-wing minister said, “a formidable war machine”.

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