Electoral deal ratified

Peter Manson reports on the French left and the EU elections

As expected, the Lutte Ouvrière congress, meeting in Saint-Denis on December 7, has ratified the electoral agreement with the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire for next year’s European Union and French regional ballots.

Speaking afterwards, Arlette Laguiller, LO’s main spokesperson and its presidential candidate in 2002, said that the decision was almost unanimous. The draft agreement was “overwhelmingly carried, with two percent abstaining and one percent voting against,” she said, after the “comrades from the Nord and Pas-du-Calais rallied to this position”.

She was referring to the area in the north-west of France where LO has seven elected representatives on the regional executive. They clearly did not relish the possibility of having to stand down in favour of LCR candidates. However, it seems that the seven are to top the list of candidates for the region in 2004, an assurance which “eased the hostility”, according to comrade Laguiller.

She herself is likely to head the LO-LCR list in the key Ile-de-France region, with veteran LCR leader Alain Krivine as her number two. In the same region Olivier Besancenot, LCR candidate for the presidential elections, will be first on the joint slate for the European elections.

Hopefully there will be no repeat in any of next year’s polls of the LCR’s shameful call to vote for the class enemy in the second round of the presidentials. The LCR cast its vote for Jacques Chirac as the lesser evil compared with the Front National’s Jean-Marie Le Pen. Chirac’s prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, earlier this year brought in legislation introducing a second round for the regionals too. Under its stipulations candidates must win 10% in the first round to remain in the contest.

In such two-stage ballots, mainstream parties of both left and right have traditionally reached agreement for all but the best placed candidate to stand down in the second round, usually allowing for a straight fight between the two main blocs. However, when the FN or other extreme right candidate has done particularly well in the first round, the Parti Socialiste and Parti Communiste Français have not shrunk from recommending a vote for the mainstream right - ie, the favoured representative of capital. The 2002 presidential election were only the most notorious example of this.

The French are supposed to vote with their hearts in the first round and their heads in the second: ie, they switch to a candidate of the centre, shunning the extremes of left and right. And, of course, the LCR went along with this in May last year, when they recommended that their supporters vote “against Le Pen”.

But the new agreement rules out such an unnecessary compromise. It now seems certain that there will be no LCR second-round call to vote for Chirac’s UMP to keep out the FN. According to comrade Laguiller, “In regions where it is established that the Front National could take the executive, we can envisage calling for a vote for the left, and only the left.”

But that would only be in cases where the revolutionary bloc had failed to reach the 10% threshold itself. Comrade Laguiller states that its candidates would not withdraw voluntarily under any circumstances. In all other cases where it failed to make the second round, it would refuse to make any recommendation between the bonnet blanc of the UMP-led right and the blanc bonnet of the pluralist left.

As part of the build-up to the ratification of the deal, LO had for the first time announced the date of its closed congress in advance. Like the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, LO usually keeps all details of its congresses a closely guarded secret. Comrade Laguiller said there were 450 voting delegates and around the same number of invited non-delegates present. LO claims a total of 7,477 members.