The Green Yannick Jadot and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of France Insoumise marched on Thursday in the Parisian protest, one of 170 demonstrations organized throughout France to denounce wages being too low. The other candidates from the left side of the spectrum, present in the marches or not, all support the claims of the world of labor. But the left is fragmented going into the presidential elections in April: there are 5 main candidates plus two secondary ones, who are competing with each other. And the roster is not yet complete: the former president François Hollande was ambiguous a few days ago, floating a possible candidacy. The polls anticipate a sure defeat for everyone: no one is above 10% in the people’s voting intentions, with two and a half months to go till the first round.
Calls for unity and a single candidate have multiplied in recent months, while each candidate is proposing unity, but only behind themselves. A movement born among civil society, founded by two figures – the entrepreneur Samuel Grzybowski, 29 years old, a left-wing Catholic, and Mathilde Imer, 31 years old, a militant environmentalist – has set up a unitary process: from Friday until Sunday, January 30, citizens who have registered on the “People’s Primary” platform will be able to choose from a shortlist of candidates, put together by the organizers, voting for the one they consider the best “so that ecology and social justice would win.” The registered voters number 467,000, a relative success (the primary of Europa Ecologia was attended by 122,000 people, while that of the Républicains, on the right, had 140,000).
However, the People’s Primary has a big problem: 7 candidates have been put on the ballot, but 3 of them do not want to participate. These are Jadot, Mélenchon and the socialist Anne Hidalgo, included on the list without their consent. The candidate Christiane Taubira, a former minister of Hollande, was the only one who agreed to participate. These well-known names of French politics are competing with three near-unknowns: the best known is the MEP Pierre Larrouturou, then Charlotte Marchandise and Anne Agueb-Porterie, engaged in social work but without any name recognition. Other left-wing candidates were not even considered, such as the Communist Fabien Roussel or the two Trotskyists, Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud. The candidates in the race, intentionally or not, have never debated each other.
Voters will have to give them a grade (from “very good” to “good”, “good enough,” “passable” and “insufficient”), and the result will be based on the “majority preference.”
The platform that is hosting the vote is Neovote, the same one that managed the primaries of Europa Ecologia and LR. It charges 600,000 euros, which the organizers of the Popular Primary have raised almost entirely thanks to donations from citizens (you can consult the list of those who have paid more than 200 euros, while two entrepreneurs have given thousands of euros each and granted a loan). The method to check the identities of the voters, who needed to be over 16, raised some eyebrows: in addition to name, surname, telephone and email, they had to give their credit card number (the charge of one euro was refunded).
When the results come on Sunday evening, what will the candidates in contention do? The non-consenting ones have clearly said that they will not take the vote into account. Jadot, who is insisting that “no means no,” compared the Popular Primary to the Solar Temple cult (protagonist of a collective suicide many years ago) and looked with suspicion towards his rival from the environmentalist primaries, Sandrine Rousseau, who is open to the initiative. Mélenchon, who could win (there seems to have been a rush to sign up among his supporters), called the organizers “pimply kids,” asked to be “left alone,” and saw the initiative as a move by the Socialists in crisis: “they can work it out amongst themselves.”
Anne Hidalgo, who at first seemed to be in favor, has now clearly distanced herself and says she will not withdraw her candidacy regardless of the result: “They do not want to unify the left, but to destroy it.” But in the Socialist Party, the primary is now being used to push Hidalgo (who is below 5% in the polls) to drop out, and the party’s number two, Corinne Narassiguin, argues that the result “cannot be ignored.” Christiane Taubira, the only one who agreed explicitly to be in the primary, doesn’t seem to be inclined to drop her candidacy if she doesn’t win, while the other candidates are accusing the Popular Primary of having been organized in her favor.
A bootleg video seems to bring evidence for this hypothesis: in it, we see Grzybowski explain that the intention is to prevent “Hidalgo, Mélenchon, Roussel, Montebourg and Jadot from obtaining the 500 signatures” of elected representatives (parliamentarians, mayors, local councilors) necessary to validate a presidential candidacy (former minister Arnaud Montebourg has already withdrawn).
Furthermore, the intervention in support of this primary by an actress, Anna Mouglalis, who plays the part of the French President in the political TV movie Baron Noir, has added even more confusion, blurring the lines between fiction and reality.