A Scandalous Race in Paris
“Paris mayoral elections have become elections of mass destruction”. Serge Federsburch used these words to describe the mayoral elections of Paris that will occur in March. Despite Federsburch being himself one of the candidates from the right independent party Aimer Paris, he compared the current situation to a platform for people to sabotage themselves in a criminal manner. This statement has been made in light of the scandal that struck the political landscape of France, when, on the 14th of February, Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky published a video of Benjamin Griveaux, one of the main candidates running for the mayoralty, in a compromising sexual situation.
Benjamin Griveaux, who rescinded his candidacy following the release of the video, was well-known in the country because of his closeness to the French President Emmanuel Macron. He served as government spokesmen under Macron’s presidency until 2019, when he resigned from his position in order to pursue Paris mayoralty. He has been a member of Macron’s party En Marche! from the beginning and supported him especially during the presidency’ campaign. Pavlensky, the one who shared the intimate video of Griveaux, stated that he targeted him to unveil the candidate’s “hypocrisy”. Pavlensky’s alleged goal was to change the people’s perspective of a man who persistently advocated the values of family and respect during his campaign, arguing that this proved Griveaux’ real nature.
Even though he currently wasn’t the favourite in the run, Griveaux’ scandal may have had a broader impact, especially on the public image of its party. En Marche! has been through a tough year because of the Yellow Vests movement, an unprecedented mass mobilization born as a way of contesting the current French government and especially its president Emmanuel Macron. The president's popularity had already diminished rapidly since 2018, when less than 30% of the population was satisfied with him. And yet it was only in 2017 that Macron won the presidential elections with 66% of the French citizens’ vote, and 90% of Paris’ voters on his side.
Macron’s party needs a win if it aspires to re-elect the president in 2022. The presidential elections in France are around the corner and the future doesn’t look bright for them. The huge backlash faced by Macron during the past year is far from resolved. The Yellow Vests movement is still active and would do anything to prevent a future re-election of Macron. In light of what happened recently, Macron is expected to lose a huge part of the consent coming from rural areas, which is where the majority of protesters arrive from. Winning the mayoral elections in Paris may be used both as an early indicator of the future results and as a tool to prepare for the upcoming campaign. It could be a turning point for Macron and his movement to understand their next steps, or whether En Marche! has come to an end.
Even though Griveaux was immediately substituted by Agnès Buzyn, who was the Minister of Solidarity and Health, there was a previous candidate from the same party that could be ruining their chances to win. Cédric Villani, a mathematician and former member of parliament, was on the run against Griveaux to become the party’s candidate, but after not being nominated he chose to run independently, siphoning support away from En Marche! Villani has a discrete support and could gain it even more now that Griveaux resigned, so a coalition between him and Buzyn would be ideal, but he has put some conditions to it. Villani would like En Marche! to draw their focus specifically on climate, democracy, and Parisian peripheries. Even if these conditions were properly met, Villani appears to also have plans for an alliance with the Green Party, where the candidate is David Balliard, who has repeatedly campaigned against En marche!. It seems unlikely that the divergences will be solved quickly.
So, who is the more popular candidate at the moment? According to polls, the favourite in the race is Anne Hidalgo. She is a member of the Socialist Party and has been the mayor of Paris since 2014. Despite her popularity, she is not well received by centrists, rightist and extreme-rightist electors: her victory is thus not certain. In order to accord the electors, she has been pushed to talk less about the climate, which is a subject that has been essential in her political career. Furthermore, Parisians have raised the issue of cleanliness of the streets which has apparently worsened under her governance. The Socialist Party is still generally well received by the nation, and a victory for Hidalgo may impact the results of the presidential elections of 2022. However, what Hidalgo fails to address could be found in Rachida Dati’s political ideas, the second favoured candidate and member of the Republican party. This party, whose most famous member is former President Nicolas Sarkozy, is also one of the historical competitors in the run for Presidency. The municipal elections of Paris are interesting to any citizen in France that look at the political future of the country: they are a veritable state affair.
The elections will take place on the 15th of March and will be potentially followed by the second round on the 22nd.
Image - Unsplash.