The French centrist experiment, led by Emmanuel Macron, is starting to crumble. After narrowly holding on to the Presidency following a second-round run off with neo-fascist Marine Le Pen, Macron was expected to maintain his majority in the National Assembly.
But his Ensemble bloc only won 246 seats, less than the threshold of 289 required for a majority and a lot less than the 308 seats won by Macron’s Republican Forward Party in 2017. Back then people were voting for change and turning away from the old parties of the left and the right. But they have seen very little change under Macron.
In fact, things have got worse. The outgoing prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, cut unemployment benefit when she was Minister of Labour, and it is widely believed that she is a supporter of raising the retirement age from its current 65 and is opposed to an increase in the minimum wage.
Centre right economic policies have fuelled a series of national strikes. This has led to a left turn in politics. NUPES, the left bloc headed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon surged into second place, winning 142 seats. Macron had tried to make the election about stopping the ‘far left.’ But the far right are potentially a greater danger. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) will have 89 MPs compared to 8 in the last parliament.
It is now a question of horse trading between the different parties to establish a coalition government. This is complicated by the fact that both Macron and Mélenchon lead coalitions of the right and the left which may not hold together. Macron may try to peel off some of the more moderate NUPES MPs but he is more likely to approach the Republicans with their 64 seats as coalition partners. But even they are divided between a nationalist hard right and a more moderate pro-European faction.
This fragmentation is a symptom of widespread disillusion with politics. Turnout was below 50%. At the same time there is increasing polarisation. Traditionally this two step election process has meant that if your preferred candidate did not make the second ballot you voted for the least bad option. In practice voters on the left and right held their noses and voted to keep the far right out. This time the antipathy between Macron and Mélenchon meant that their voters abstained in massive numbers in the second round. This is why Le Pen’s fascists, who regularly poll 20%, were able to achieve an eleven-fold increase in their MPs with a vote share of 16%
On the other hand, fresh new faces from the left, including Rachel Keke, a hotel chambermaid who led her colleagues in a fight for better pay and conditions, do offer to make the air taste slightly better in France than it did just a few months ago.
South America is more encouraging. Hit with the same problems as we have been, the people are fighting back, showing they want real change not just a change of government where they will face the same difficulties as before.
Colombia has proven how quickly change can come about. The left, led by Gustavo Petro, went from 0% in 2010 to 41.7% in 2018 and 50.5% in 2022 – just 12 years from zero to forming a new government.
It was a resounding win for Petro’s Pacto Histórico coalition on Sunday and the first time since independence in 1810 that Colombia has voted for a leftist president. He won by tapping into popular discontent with the establishment and mobilising the people to come out and vote.
Like many countries around the world, Ecuador is struggling with rising inflation, unemployment and poverty exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and rising fuel prices. A national strike in Ecuador continues. It was called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and much remains closed due to their protests and the government’s decision to maintain a state of emergency. Indigenous people, who number about one million, have kept up protests in most of the country’s 24 provinces.
The strike has since been joined by students, workers and others, with demonstrations blocking roads across the country, including highways leading into the capital Quito.
The president of CONAIE, Leonidas Iza, said that “the strike continues at the national and territorial level and with an indefinite character, with a clear agenda of 10 issues” which have been presented to the Ecuadorian president, Guillermo Lasso.
Indigenous movements have played key roles in toppling presidents before, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
In Chile, where Gabriel Boric won power in March, a new constitution has been drafted to replace the one written during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. It will be put to a referendum on 4th September in which all Chileans aged 18 or older must vote.
Among the long list of rights and freedoms the draft enshrines, the new constitution makes higher education free, ensures gender parity across government and makes the state responsible for preventing, adapting to and mitigating climate change. The new document also includes a clause for the compensated restitution of historically Indigenous lands.
Boric’s approval rating has fallen as has support for the new constitution. However, the government has time to show it can respond to the public’s demands and overcome sectarian preferences. Gabriel Boric has already demonstrated his pragmatism and ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
And therein lies the dilemma for the left, how to balance principles and pragmatism without succumbing to blatant opportunism. As more centrist projects crumble they will, like Macron, try to evoke a red scare.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
WB Yeats: The Second Coming 1919
Mere anarchy is the least of their worries. There is nothing mere about the socialism that we shall loose upon the world.