Socialist party primary: hot takes

Benoît Hamon came out ahead of the first round of the Socialist primary last night, garnering 36% of the votes, a 5 point margin over Manuel Valls and almost 20 points over Arnaud Montebourg, who immediately endorsed Hamon and called on his voters to support him in the second round this coming Sunday. A few things to unpack and look forward to this week.

First of all, this is the confirmation that primaries tend to mobilize voters who represent the core of the party — this is true pretty much anywhere in the world, as already shown by Fillon’s convincing victory at the conservative primary. Hamon and Montebourg, who represent the socially progressive and state-oriented economic approaches in the Socialist Party, ended up representing almost half of the 1,3 million (as of Monday noon) whose votes have been counted.

Hamon is therefore in a clear position to win this, but perhaps not with a margin that would make put him in such a strong position that he would be able to overcome his low polling figures for the first round of the presidential election (7%) and resists calls for him to desist and pronounce himself in favor of Macron. At this point, Hamon has to choose between giving the left-writ large a shot at these elections and perhaps hope for a ministerial post under a Macron presidency (probability: 10%), or stay in the race in order to stake his claim to the leadership of the Socialist Party after the electoral period. The second option is much more likely if he wants to be the main actor of the rebuilding of the party.

In any case, this vote, which Sunday should confirm, highlights Manuel Valls’ theory about the “irreconcilable lefts” (the liberal one, represented by Macron and himself, and Hamon’s/Montebourg’s), and how they may well end up splitting up in two separate movements. This will likely create a lot of friction and infighting in the process of nominating candidates for the legislative elections, and will be a first test of Hamon’s mettle.

The small number of votes, almost 3 million fewer than at the conservative primary and the utter confusion about why the party brass is not able to provide a real confirmed number of voters by Monday at the end of the day; or, more importantly, the revelation that an updated count 353 000 votes did NOT change even a half-decimal for each candidate (a very low probability), are casting a serious doubt over the organization of this vote and by extension, will take away from legitimacy from its winner, who won’t be able to carry a strong momentum into the election. Between the lack of enthusiasm and a botched process, the optics for the Socialist party are a sad reminder of the amateurism that the government sometimes seemed to have displayed since 2012, in a stark contrast with the conservative primary.

Of course, the big loser of this primary is Manuel Valls. He was projected to be a winner, but could not hold off the Fillon-esque resurgence of Hamon, a candidate who started at 3% in the polls but methodically navigated France in order to showcase his new image — after leaving the government in 2014. Manuel Valls never really wanted to assume responsibility for the 5 years of Hollande presidency, meaning there is no one left to defend the actions this government has taken — which are not all to be ashamed of, far from it. There could no be a sadder end for this government than a defeat at a primary with a low turnout.

And what crueler symbol than François Hollande deciding to spend his day in the Atacama desert in Chile, where he visited an ultra-modern windfarm, the mind far from the party that he steered for so many years and that turned its back on him. While rumors circulate that he may interested to take over for Donald Tusk and he looks towards the future, the Socialist Party will be in for a period of soul-searching without Hollande, probably without Valls, and with a new leader whose election won’t remain in history.