Discussion: The Communist Party

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Discussion: The Communist Party

Discussion: The Communist Party


The two most important parties of the Left are the Communist Party and the Socialist Party. When left-leaning voters began turning away from the Communists in the late 1970s, the Socialist Party was the primary beneficiary on the left. In 1981, the Socialists won a resounding victory at the polls, and Socialist leader Mitterrand was elected president (a post he held for fourteen years after winning reelection in 1988).

In 1993, however, the center-right won a landslide victory, retaking control of the National Assembly; two years later, the neo-Gaullist candidate Jacques Chirac was elected president. Combined with the decisive center-right triumph in Senate elections that same year, Chirac’s election put the conservatives back in the driver’s seat—but not for long.

In the June 1997 elections, parties of the left, again led by the Socialists, won overwhelmingly. Chirac bowed to the will of the electorate and named Socialist Party leader Lionel Jospin the new prime minister. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s far-right National Party received more votes than the Gaullist UDF (Union for French Democracy)—14.9% to 14.2%—and nearly as many as Chirac’s RPR, which had 15.7%.Yet the two center-right parties garnered 242 seats in the National Assembly, while the National Party won but a single seat. Why?

France’s electoral system stacks the deck against fringe parties by requiring a second round of balloting when no candidate receives an absolute majority of votes in the first round. In practice, this means parties with similar (and less uncompromising) ideological stances can form temporary alliances between the two balloting rounds. As a result, the influence of fringe or extremist parties is greatly diminished.

In 2002, Chirac’s new center-right umbrella party called Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) won a clear majority in the National Assembly (357 seats, or 62% of the total) in the second round of balloting, but the result was misleading. The UMP, despite the preelection realignment that merged three center-right parties into one, received only 33% of the votes in the first round (just 7% more than the Socialists). The election outcome once again underscored the way France’s two-step electoral process produces a parliamentary majority out of a fragmented party system.


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