With humiliating eliminations in France’s presidential election on Sunday, the historic right-wing Republicans party joins the Socialists in facing a moment of truth: rebuild a viable political project or risk being relegated to the history books.
Republican candidate Valérie Pécresse finished in fifth place according to projections after failing to woo voters who turned to centrist upstart Emmanuel Macron or far-right Marine Le Pen, both of whom qualified for the runner-up turn of April 24.
The blow was all the more devastating as the Republican Party traces its roots to Charles de Gaulle, the revered World War II Resistance hero who laid the foundations for France’s all-powerful presidency.
“I had to fight a battle on two fronts, between the president’s party and the extremes who joined forces to divide and defeat the Republican right,” Pecresse said after his defeat.
“This result is obviously a personal and collective disappointment.”
Changing political landscape
With legislative elections looming in June, Republicans must now rethink their strategy and craft a conservative message that aligns with voters’ expectations – and perhaps even drop their opposition to joining far-right forces that don’t cease to gain ground in France.
“They’ve been in the opposition for 10 years, that should have been enough to have a solid program and candidates,” said Dominique Reynie of the Fondapol think tank in Paris.
The party still controls the Senate and city councils across France, but its leaders seem unable to find a national heavyweight since Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential defeat in 2012.
“We are witnessing a recomposition of French political life, with this new polarity between the centrists and the far right,” said Gaspard Estrada, political scientist at Sciences Po Paris.
“The traditional parties in power, the Socialists and the Republicans, together obtained less than 10% of the votes, which says a lot about the political evolution of France,” he said.
Macron will not be allowed to seek re-election in 2027 under French term limits. His upstart centrist party has produced no obvious successors, meaning the jockey has already started to take his place.
Le Pen said this was her last presidential campaign, but her strong performance makes it likely she will remain a potent force to be reckoned with.
The Republicans will also have to face Macron’s former prime minister, Edouard Philippe, whose popularity on the right has soared since taking office as mayor of Le Havre.
He formed his own party, Horizons, and is widely expected to try to recruit more into Macron’s Republic on the Move party, a vehicle that has failed to establish a presence on the ground in the town halls or regional councils.
The socialists on the loose
The challenge is even greater for left-wing socialists, whose candidate Anne Hidalgo is projected to get just 2%, below the 5% threshold required to be reimbursed for campaign expenses by the State.
“In 2017, we saw the Socialist Party explode, and in this vote we will probably see the explosion of the Republicans,” said Rémi Lefebvre, political scientist at the University of Lille to the political newspaper Grand Continent.
The party’s ranks dwindled for decades as the French political landscape shifted to the right. More recently, left-leaning voters have backed Macron or embraced the revolutionary rhetoric of Jean-Luc Melenchon, who far outpaced the Socialists with a projected score of around 21%.
“The left has never been able to reclaim the working classes…” Reynie said. “Instead of reinventing itself, the party has stuck with the bureaucratic middle classes and the civil servants – That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not enough.”
Yet neither Mélenchon, the Greens, nor the Communist candidates – all of whom beat Hidalgo on Sunday – have shown any interest in an alliance.
“Tonight, I launch a solemn appeal to the left and environmental forces, to the social forces, to the citizens ready to commit themselves to building together a social and environmental justice pact for the legislative elections,” the party leader said on Sunday. socialist, Olivier Faure.
If the Socialists lose seats in parliament again in June – they currently have just 25 – their party’s public funding will shrink even further, putting them in dire financial straits just a few years after the sale of their iconic Paris headquarters. .
“They tried to present themselves as a socio-ecological party… but without clearly exposing an original doctrine,” said Frédéric Sawicki, a political scientist at the Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.
“If this terrible score for the presidency is followed by a debacle in the legislative elections, the survival of the party in its current form will be in question,” he said.