Has one of the two candidates who has advanced to a runoff presidential election ever held a debate with the eliminated third-place candidate? Maybe so, but it is a new one on me. But that is just what French Socialist candidate SÃ©golÃ¨ne Royal has done with also-ran FranÃ§ois Bayrou.
Royal’s chances in the runoff against conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy depend on her being able to woo a substantial chunk of Bayrou’s votes (while getting those who supported farther left candidates to turn out for her, rather than stay at home). It is a tall order. Hence the debate gambit.
From the Guardian:
Royal, who just weeks ago dismissed calls for an alliance with Bayrou, repeatedly stressed Saturday the similarities between their visions for France.
Bayrou, however, reminded her of their differences, in particular over her leftist economic program.
Quite apart from programmatic differences, I am skeptical of Royal’s ability to claim many votes from Bayrou. The party of the latter, the UDF, is now rather small, but is a long-time electoral and governing ally of the Gaullist forces backing Sarkozy. With parliamentary elections due in June, it is hard to see what UDF politicians would have to gain by backing Royal. How many districts are there in which UDF candidates might beat Sarkozy allies with the help of the Socialists? I have no idea, but if that number is small, there is little Bayrou can do to get local-level cooperation in the few days remaining until the runoff. Bayrou’s allies at the local level, and their voters, would seem to be better off attempting to reclaim their influence within the right-wing alliance than joining with the left.
It is easy to see why Royal wants to sway Bayrou’s voters, and Bayrou himself–while unwilling to make a formal endorsement–may stand to gain some role in a center-left government if one could be formed after the presidential and parliamentary elections are complete. But it is less clear what the incentives are below the level of these two candidates for the kind of cooperation that would be needed to pull it off.*
Now, if France had a proportional system for its National Assembly, things would be different: Bayrou’s party would stand a chance of winning a block of seats independently of either the left or right alliances. Then a center-left coalition would be a real possibility. Not surprisingly, Bayrou is indeed in favor of a proportional system, among other institutional reforms.**
In France, as in most contexts, PR would enhance the representation of the center.
* I am reminded that some members of the UDF participated in the Michel Rocard government, which was appointed after the reelected President Mitterrand dissolved parliament and called for an “opening to the center.” How relevant that precedent is today is not clear to me.
**Thanks to Bancki, in an earlier thread, for this link.