French Presidential election 2022

French left risks further division as Hidalgo's primary suggestion is shot down

Paris Mayor and Socialist presidential candidate Anne Hidalgo's proposal to hold a primary has been met by mixed reactions from left-wing leaders, just four months out from the 2022 elections. The left of the political spectrum is suffering from historically low support, and is fragmented between seven candidates, including two from the far left.

French Socialist Party presidential candidate Anne Hidalgo during her formal inauguration at the Grand Palais in Lille on October 23, 2021.
French Socialist Party presidential candidate Anne Hidalgo during her formal inauguration at the Grand Palais in Lille on October 23, 2021. AFP - THOMAS LO PRESTI

"There are many differences between us," Communist Party leader and presidential candidate Fabien Roussel told BFM TV on Thursday in response to Hidalgo's suggestion of a primary during a television interview on TF1 on Wednesday night.

Therefore, choosing a unique candidate to represent the left for him is "not a solution".

"It's not a person we need to find, but the issues that unite us," he said.

Greens leader and presidential candidate Yannick Jadot said it was "not the choice for his party" and he would not be involved in a primary.

"I will not participate in a primary for the left ... because the election is four and a half months away. We need to get a bit serious about all of this," adding that he had already been through the primary process with his own Greens party (EELV).

Surprise factor

"She's realised her candidacy is facing a dead end, and the fact that she's having trouble getting her ideas accepted by the public," Jadot told Europe 1 radio on Thursday.

"There's a need for her to get out of this situation by creating a surprise." 

Polls show Hidalgo has between 3 and 7 percent of voter intentions, while Jadot is estimated to have between 6 and 9 percent.

Hidalgo's idea, however, was supported by Socialist party leader Olivier Faure, who called it "necessary collective awareness" rather than a cry for help.

Speaking to France Inter radio, he expressed concern that the "election would be largely dominated by issues brought up by the far-right".

"Everyone is saying they have something else to do because no one wants to face reality. But we cannot remain in denial," he concluded.

Arnaud Montebourg, who was minister of industrial renewal from May 2012 to August 2014 under Socialist president François Hollande, was thrilled by Hidalgo's idea and says he's very willing to fall behind a main candidate.

"I think Anne Hidalgo's proposal is a good one. Finally, some action," he said, adding that although he is running independently, he would make way for the stronger candidates.

Montebourg, who ran in the 2012 and 2017 presidential elections, had himself earlier on Wednesday called for "a gathering of the left" in order to back a "common project" and "a common candidate".

Two left feet 

However, on the far-left, the France Unbowed (La France Insoumise, or LFI) party scoffed at the notion of a primary, calling it a "last ditch bid".

"Anne Hidalgo is not going to get a way with passing on the losing machine that the Socialists inherited in 2016," LFI MP Eric Coquerel told France Info.

"Between Anne Hidalgo, who is still close to the remnants of the François Hollande era, and us, the differences are enormous."

The France Unbowed leader and presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who formed an alliance with the communists back in 2012 and 2017, has decided to go it alone this time.

"This is not a responsible way to act," Hidalgo's spokesman Stéphane Troussel said in response to Jadot's refusal.

"Does he just want to cause more despair among Socialists and Ecologists?" he asked on Public Senate television.

"What has helped us win local elections? It's joining forces."

Lack of coherence

A cautious response also came from former President François Hollande himself.

"This kind of thing can't be improvised," he warned. "Uniting around a candidate only makes sense if there is a coherent, shared programme and we know that is not the case."

Interestingly enough, Hidalgo herself was not in favour of having a primary with regards to the Socialist party nomination, as suggested by her rival Stéphane Le Foll.

A compromise was found: a vote was held among party members only and in October, Hidalgo came out on top.

When challenged about the logistics of holding a primary so close to the presidential election, Hidalgo proposed to attach it to an existing initiative known as the "Primaire populaire".

The online vote to be held between the 27 and 30 January 2022, allowing ordinary citizens to put forward the name of a public figure they would like to see run as candidate.

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