In a presidential campaign dominated by a revengeful and nativist far right, the presumption of Christiane Taubira’s candidacy for the Elysée has more than a hint of poetic license, of quiet rage against the dying of the left. It may also be the last chance for his dying camp to find a voice in an election he seems doomed to lose.
Former justice minister and icon of the French left, Taubira took another step towards a widely whispered presidential race on Sunday, saying she would submit to a citizens’ primary vote later this month, which she is expected to win . The decision practically confirms her second presidential candidacy, 20 years after becoming the first black woman to run for the highest office in France.
The news of Taubira’s candidacy sparked a stir among increasingly dejected left-wing voters in France, the kind that only Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the high roller on the left, can compete. However, it also adds one more name to an already crowded field of candidates vying for a declining vote pool, prompting many analysts to question the very relevance of his late Elysee candidacy.
“If she somehow manages to unite the reformist left behind, then her candidacy could be a game-changer,” political scientist Thomas Guénolé said, while quickly warning: “Without unity, however, it will become just one more element in a ‘balkanized (and desperate) Left.
Speaking of the chronic divisions of the left is a sensitive topic for Taubira, a maverick who has long taken responsibility for the shocking breakthrough of the far right in the first round of the 2002 presidential election. Left at the time, Taubira collected just 2.3% of the vote – a relatively small number but enough to keep socialist frontrunner Lionel Jospin out of the second round.
“She was made the scapegoat for Jospin’s defeat, wrongly,” Guénolé said, noting that others on the left had siphoned more votes from the Socialist candidate.
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Twenty years later, the once powerful Socialist Party has become a minor player in the French political landscape, leaving the left as a whole rudderless and divided. Between them all, the seven left-wing candidates currently vying for the Elysee Palace represent a little more than a quarter of the voters, according to the polls. Only one – the far-left Mélenchon – has hit double digits so far, but even it remains far from the 17% to 20% threshold deemed necessary to reach the crucial second round of the ballot.
Mélenchon and Yannick Jadot, the Greens’ candidate, have repeatedly rejected the idea of a citizen primary, leaving only a motley group of struggling candidates – including the socialist mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo – among the potential challengers of Taubira. According to her supporters, Taubira, a prolific writer and passionate orator whose lyrics have been put to song, is the only one who can truly energize voters.
Rebel at heart
A staunch feminist and champion of minorities, Taubira, 69, is best known for having introduced a bill on same-sex marriage into French law in 2013, when she was Minister of Justice in the socialist government of François Hollande. She faced it with an angry backlash from the conservative and far-right opposition, and with only lukewarm support from her cabinet colleagues.
“Opening up marriage and adoption to same-sex couples is an act of freedom, equality and brotherhood,” she told lawmakers during one of many heated debates in parliament, echoing the republican motto of France. The opposition insults she encountered with lyrical flourishes and witty criticism kept her calm and cool even when anti-gay marriage protesters hurled racist slurs at her.
“Taubira is a symbol of anti-racism because of who she is, what she has accomplished and the vile racist abuse she has suffered,” Guénolé said. “The battle over same-sex marriage has also made her an icon of equality.”
Taubira had already established herself as a champion of progressives more than a decade earlier, drafting landmark legislation in 2001 that recognized slavery as a crime against humanity. A personal triumph for the then little-known deputy from distant Guyana, a former French colony in South America, where those condemned in France were banished until 1953, one year after her birth.
One of 11 siblings, Taubira was raised in Cayenne, the capital of Guyana, by her single mother, a nursing assistant who died at the age of 49.[w]Oman, Black, poor, what a fabulous capital! Every challenge to overcome, the promise of a lifetime of exhaustion. But life is more seditious than you think.
A seditious and rebellious streak will unfold throughout her political career, which began in the ranks of a Guyanese independence faction, alongside her second husband, Robert Delannon, imprisoned in the late 1970s for planning to do so. explode an oil and gas facility. Taubira quickly abandoned the separatist cause and turned to more moderate politics, although she never lost her independent spirit.
“Sometimes to resist is to stay, sometimes to resist is to leave,” she tweeted decades later, in January 2016, as she left the Justice Department to protest controversial plans to to strip dual nationals born in France of their nationality when they are found guilty of terrorism. .
Prior to his departure, Taubira had championed a controversial overhaul of prison sentences, seeking to institute probation in place of jail terms for minor offenses in a bid to reduce overcrowding in French penitentiaries. But his efforts met resistance from cabinet colleagues and ended up clashing with the mood of a nation deeply shaken by a series of jihadist terrorist attacks.
Battle of ideas
Much like same-sex marriage, Taubira’s perceived gentleness as justice minister gave the French right a key line of attack. Just like his positions on racism and the legacy of slavery, issues that some candidates for the next presidential elections are keen to get under the rug. While the account of France with its colonial past is only in its infancy, for personalities like the extreme right expert Eric Zemmour, “repentance” has already gone too far.
A supporter of the ‘Grand Replacement’ theory, according to which elites plot to replace white French nationals with immigrants, Zemmour dominated the early stages of the campaign in the rowdy, aggressive and iconoclastic manner of a Donald Trump – but with the veneer of cultivated sophistication generally expected of a French presidential candidate.
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Some have suggested that Taubira’s main goal is to consult with Zemmour in a battle of ideas, knowing full well that the Elysee Palace is already out of sight. According to Thomas Legrand, political columnist for France Inter, Taubira’s candidacy “would offer an alternative, republican, fraternal, racially diverse and universal story, opposed to the dark and depressing identity politics of Eric Zemmour”.
A small figure, like Zemmour, Taubira is known for her haughty rhetoric and frequent literary quotations – especially anti-colonial poets of the Négritude movement, like Aimé Césaire and his Guyanese compatriot Léon-Gontran Damas. She is as comfortable talking about black identity as she is about the fundamental and universal values of the French Republic – a notion that is anathema to the far right.
If it gained momentum, Taubira’s candidacy “would instantly become a hateful obsession of the far right, of which it embodies the worst nightmare”, noted Guénolé. Whether she can change the campaign narrative will depend on her ability to rally the reformist left behind, he warned, stressing the need to flesh out a political and economic platform that little or nothing is known about – and to meet at least two conditions.
“The first is to embody something powerful against the far right – and Taubira certainly does. The other is to be a candidate for the second round of the presidential election, ”he said. “If she does not meet the second criterion, the media will only talk about the miserable figures of the Taubira polls. And his candidacy will go like others on the left.