Bretons vote – les elections departmentales

The first elections of this year in any Celtic country (ignoring by-elections) take place tomorrow in our nearest neighbour – Brittany. The first round of local elections for departmental councils (similar to Cornwall Council) take place under a new system which replaces the former cantonal elections (names after the wards).

The basic voting procedure is the same. If a candidate wins more than half the vote and 25% of registered voters then they’re elected in the first round. If not, there’ll be a second round a week later. In that round people vote again for the two candidates with the highest vote in the first, together with any others who obtained at least 12.5% of the registered electorate, which is mathematically quite unlikely in local elections with high abstention rates.

Except that it’s no longer candidates people vote for but ‘binomials’. To encourage gender equality the number of cantons (or wards) has been halved but two councillors (or one binomial) will be elected from each. The pair in each binomial must comprise one man and one woman. This also lends itself to party electoral deals, something the French are much more familiar with than the British.

There are 132 cantons across the five Breton Departments, electing 264 councillors. The United Right (UD), including the UMP and others, the Front National (FN) and the Parti Socialiste (PS) are contesting almost every Breton seat. The Greens and the Front de Gauche (FdG – socialists in the Left Party and the Communist Party) are each contesting around half.

The Union Démocratique Bretonne (UDB), the biggest regionalist party, is standing in 26 cantons, a slightly lower proportion than MK managed in the last Cornwall Council elections. The UDB is presenting their own binomials in 21 cantons and is in alliance with either the PS or the FdG in five others. The former electoral alliance with the Greens seems to have largely collapsed following a dispute over the Regional Assembly budget.

There are another 13 Breton regionalist/nationalist binomials to vote for in tomorrow’s election. These are mainly around the rather curiously named Nous te ferons bretagne (we will make Brittany for you) and the nationalist Parti Breton (which in one canton in Rennes is sharing a binomial with the UD). The leading light of Nous te ferons Bretagne is Christian Troadec, the mayor of Carhaix, who was closely linked to the Bonnets Rouges demonstrations in 2013/14 triggered by a tax on road freight. These became the focus for a wider range of Breton grievances, including the failure of the Socialist Government to take the opportunity of a redrawing of regional boundaries to restore the historic Brittany of five Departments.

However, both Troadec and the UDB will do well not to drown in the expected tidal surge towards the right. As in England (and unlike Greece, Spain or Ireland) disaffected voters in the French hexagon are turning in large numbers to the populist right and to the FN, the French version of Ukip. While the left (Greens and FdG) has around a 10% share of the latest polls and the social democrats of the PS another 20%, the FN is neck and neck with the traditional right, both on 30%.

All of which could well mean a virtual wipe-out for the left in some parts of France in these elections as the FN and UD slog it out in all right wing second round contests. But, just as MK resisted the Ukip wave quite well in 2013, maybe the Breton movement can do the same. Some evaluation of whether they did will be posted here later next week.

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