An internal war has broken out among France’s leading conservative politicians over the decision to form a local alliance with Emmanuel Macron’s party ahead of council elections.
The pact between the leader of Les Republicains (LR) in Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur (Paca), ruled from regional capital Marseille, and President Macron’s En Marche (Onward) is “aimed at blocking a takeover of the regional government” by Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally, The Times reports.
But Republicans have “clashed bitterly” over the deal, which has pushed their party to “the brink of meltdown”, the paper continues. While the pact is widely viewed as reflecting “the weakness of the president’s party”, conservative leaders fear that Macron is staging a “takeover” of the LR – the party of political heavyweights including Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy.
The row erupted on Sunday, when Macron’s centrist party withdrew its slate of candidates from the ballot in the wealthy and right-leaning region – handing a major boost to the LR. Prior to the En Marche retreat, National Rally candidate Thierry Mariani was polling in first place with 31% of the vote, trailed by the LR on 27% and Macron’s party on 13%.
However, critics within the “already enfeebled” LR argue that the move only serves to underline “the current dominance of national politics” by Macron and Le Pen, the Financial Times (FT) reports.
The Republicans’ elected Paca president, Renaud Muselier, was stripped of the party ticket following the announcement of the pact, which was described as a “stab in the back” by LR parliamentarian Eric Ciotti.
After removing Muselier from the party’s list of candidates, Republican leader Christian Jacob said in a statement that “fear of losing on one side and cynicism on the other have never produced a political programme”.
The Republican party has “long pedigree and is strong at the local and regional levels of French politics”, but “has struggled since Macron’s victory in the presidential and legislative elections”, says the FT.
In the European elections in 2019, the LR won less than 8.5% of the vote, trailing behind the French Green Party. The disappointing result for the Republicans came two years after Macron poached his prime minister and many other cabinet members from their party.
The conservative defectors include Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who claims that the newly unveiled alliance marks “the final divorce decree between the two irreconcilable parts” of his former party.
The two wings split when Macron faced off against Le Pen in the final run-off of the 2017 presidential election, with one side backing the En Marche boss while the other expressed no preference.
The latest drama within the LR comes ahead of national elections next spring during which “another run-off between Macron and Le Pen” is the most likely result, The Times says. According to Politico’s poll of polls, Le Pen (26%) is currently leading Macron (25%) by one point, and 59% of voters disapprove of the incumbent’s presidency compared with 39% who approve.