An existential choice? The French Communist Party is considering a presidential race | Voice of America

French Communist Party (PCF) MP Marie-George Buffet attends a government question session at the National…

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PARIS – The once powerful French Communist Party is putting forward its first presidential candidate in years for the 2022 election, a choice some see as vital to its very survival. It is one of the last communist parties concerned in Western Europe, whose latest movement paradoxically risks further fracturing an already weakened French left.
The presidential hopeful of the French Communist Party is Fabien Roussel, a renowned former journalist of bon vivant and amateur fisherman, who has been at its head since 2018. He garnered strong support at a party meeting last weekend , although the grassroots of the movement have yet to approve his candidacy next month.

A new poll reveals that the leader of the French Communist Party, Fabien Roussel, would score only a tiny percentage in the next presidential election. But some say a race is key if the party is to stay relevant. (Lisa Bryant / VOA)

Announcing his race on Sunday, Roussel said he wanted to offer the French a program of hope – not only to defeat the coronavirus pandemic but also unemployment, poverty and inequality.

The century-old French Communist Party was once a major political force. In the 1970s, it was the most powerful left-wing party in the country, with around 20% popular support. He also ruled a series of working class towns around Paris dubbed the Red Belt, with streets named after Communist icons like Marx and Lenin.

The headquarters of the French Communist Party in northeast Paris, designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1965, when the party was a major player in French political life. (Lisa Bryant / VOA)

Today it is a shadow of its old self – although it is among a handful of Communist parties across Europe with MEPs in the European Parliament. Here in France, center and far-right candidates have pierced the “red belt” of the Paris region and the Communists now control only one French department.

FILE – French Communist Party (PCF) MP Marie-George Buffet attends a questioning session with the government at the French National Assembly in Paris on April 14, 2020.

The party’s last presidential candidate, Marie-George Buffet, won less than 2% of the vote in 2007. Roussel was partly elected on his call for a new race.

According to political scientist Jean Petaux, Roussel’s decision is almost an existential decision for the party. If the Communists do not present a candidate, they risk disappearing altogether. If they do, they risk another humiliating defeat.

The newspaper Lefitst l'Humanite was once owned by the Communist Party with a circulation of half a million.  He still maintains
The newspaper Lefitst l’Humanite was once owned by the Communist Party and had a circulation of half a million. He still maintains ties with the party and, like him, the newspaper’s fortunes are difficult. (Lisa Bryant / VOA)

The immediate outlook is not very promising. A meeting this Saturday aims to unify the frenzied left of France, which ranges from the Green Party and far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon to the socialist mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo. Supporters hope to find a single candidate for next year’s presidential race. But Melenchon, one of the most powerful characters, says he won’t be there.

Even if the left unites, political commentators say Roussel is unlikely to lead the way. If Roussel runs alone, it will further divide the left.

Either way, things look bleak for communists and other leftists.

French President Emmanuel Macron gives a press conference after a European Council summit organized by videoconference, in…
FILE – French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a press conference, in Paris, France, February 25, 2021.

An FIFG poll on Sunday found that President Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen were leading voters’ intentions for next year’s elections. He found that no left-wing candidate would get more than 13% – and Roussel capturing just 2.5%.

French national rally party leader Marine Le Pen speaks during a press conference in Milan, Italy, May 18, 2019.
File – Leader of the Parti du Rassemblement National de la France, Marine Le Pen speaks during a press conference in Milan, Italy, May 18, 2019.

Analyst Petaux says it’s a paradox, as the coronavirus crisis has left some French people hungry for the kind of messages the Communist Party has long embraced – like the return of the protective state. Yet even among the working class, the party has lost its luster. Many have turned to the far right of the Le Pen National Rally.

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