The first round of the French regional elections saw the highest abstention rate in the history of the Fifth Republic, by far, at 66.7 percent. Among those under 35, abstention was around 84 percent. It was of the same order in the poorest and most oppressed layers of the population. This is the main takeaway from the first round. It is an expression of the regime crisis of French capitalism, though far from the only one.
Since the 2017 presidential election, all elections, including legislative ones, have been marked by very high levels of abstention. In the final analysis, this profound rejection of the political system is fraught with revolutionary implications.
As each election sees a new record beaten for abstention, discredited politicians put on a serious tone on television sets and call on their peers for "self reflection." But after this minute of contrition, they dive back into empty phrases and self-satisfaction.
The leaders of the Republicans, the Socialist Party and the Greens are loudly celebrating their results, as if the massive abstention did not radically undermine their significance. Hearing them, one wonders at what level of abstention they would stop shouting: "victory!" 80 percent? 90 percent? 99 percent?
Failure for Macron and Le Pen, errors by Mélenchon
The results for Macron's party, LREM, is an extreme expression of the rejection of the establishment. Taking into account the abstention, the 11 percent of the vote LREM received nationally, means less than 4 percent of those registered supported the party that currently occupies the Elysee Palace and has a majority in the National Assembly.
This unprecedented situation is disorientating to even the most-hardened apologists of bourgeois “democracy”.
The vote for Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (the rebranded National Front) was much lower than the pollsters predicted. It received 2.7 million votes, against 6 million in the 2015 regional elections and 7.7 million on 23 April 2017.
The reactionary press are perplexed. But the explanation is simple: a large fraction of the popular electorate who voted for the RN in 2017 did so out of frustration with the status quo and are very volatile. Their allegiance is not assured for Le Pen by any means.
This underlines one of the major challenges of the next presidential election. The left-wing leader of France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon will not be able to win without getting votes from that fraction of the working class (young people, unemployed and retirees included) who voted for the RN in 2017 or abstained.
However, for this, FI and Mélenchon will have to present a radical left programme, to break with the established order and the current political system.
Unfortunately, the leadership of the FI are focused on the presidential elections, and decided not to take these regional elections seriously, instead choosing to stand as part of a series of awkward lists with the PS, the PCF and the Greens. This confused voters and activists alike.
If FI does not change course, and move sharply to the left, it will have great difficulty in expanding its 2017 electoral base. Their predictably abysmal result in the first round of the regional elections should act as a serious warning for FI.