France's conservatives seek reset after poor European election result

Source: Xinhua| 2019-06-03 22:25:07|Editor: Xiaoxia
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PARIS, June 3 (Xinhua) -- The resignation of the leader of France's center-right opposition on Sunday has pushed the party to seek for a new chief to bring back its glory of the yesteryears.

Laurent Wauquiez, leader of the Republicans (LR), announced on Sunday his decision to quit as the party's chief following the conservatives' humiliating defeat in the European elections.

Still struggling to find a way to recover from a financial scandal that broke during the 2017 presidential campaign, the conservatives' "disastrous" performance on May 26 is likely to be a further sign that challenges are ahead for the former ruling party to retake its top spot in the domestic political mainstream, while questions linger over the conservatives' ability to rebuild their ranks before the upcoming elections.

The LR won 8.48 percent of the vote in the European Parliament elections in May, coming in fourth, behind the National Rally, President Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move (LERM) party and the Greens.

"Victories are collective, defeats are solitary. That is the way it is. I have to take my responsibilities ... I have decided to take a step back, I'm stepping down as president of Les Republicans," Wauquiez said on TF1 television.

"During the past week, I did everything to try to meet those of good will. But I see ... that there is a risk of a return of leadership wars and desires of revenge. I do not want to be an obstacle at any price," he said.

Once one of France's two main political parties, the Republicans have been weakened by internal leadership in-fightings and hit by corruption scandals since former President Nicolas Sarkozy failed to secure a second term in the 2012 presidential election.

Furthermore, Wauquiez's party has lost supporters to the ruling LERM party, which Macron created in 2016 to attract voters holding different political views.

"The presence of ex-LR figures in key government economic posts, the right-leaning emphasis of Macron's policy agenda, and the susceptibility of large numbers of former LR voters to the gravitational pull of Macron have made LREM the natural party of the centre-right for now at least," commented Jim Shields, professor of French politics at Warwick University.

"Macron's particular permutation of Gaullism, that of holding the line against an insurgent far right as a republican monarch, appeals to a lot of people, especially LR's natural constituency," he added on France 24 television.

Torn between identity-based politics that far-right leader Marine Le Pen defends and a more pro-business and liberal approach pursued by Macron, LR supporters are in need of a leader who can find the balance between the two platforms, a leader such as Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Jacques Chirac or Nicolas Sarkozy, according to political analyst Camille Langlade.

"To find again its place, the right-wing party needs (new) ideas, reflections, but especially a leader ... something the party sorely lacks today," she told the BFMTV news channel on Monday.

In a televised interview on Sunday, Wauquiez stressed that "the (political) right has to be rebuilt."

"I do not want democracy to become just that choice between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen," he said.

However, the party's dismal performance in the European elections and the absence of a strong leadership may pave the way for another duel for the Elysee Palace in 2022 between Macron and Le Pen.

"Who is the personality that is able to federate all the sensibilities of the French right? It does not exist. Who will have the power not to run for president in 2022 but to give the Republicans the feeling that (he or she) can help them build a party that would win in the presidential election? It does not exist," said Jean-Michel Aphatie, a political analyst.

"It is an extremely sick party. And the concern of the one who will take over (its leadership) is to regain the voters who left either to the National Rally or to the Republic on the Move, or who abstained," he told local broadcaster Europe1 on Monday.