Ségolène Royal is back in the headlines. The Socialist presidential candidate in 2007, Royal did not contest a parliamentary seat as it would have looked like she did not expect to win the presidency if she had a plan B lined up. After losing to Nicolas Sarkozy, she focused her efforts on being president of her region and staging her comeback.
In 2011, after losing the primary to be the PS presidential candidate in 2012 (to François Hollande), she set her new ambition on being the president of Parliament. She was parachuted into a safe PS seat where the incumbent was standing down. However, another candidate, Olivier Falorni, had set his sights on this seat and refused to make way for Royal. The PS declared the seat a reserved seat for women - their equivalent to all-women shortlists and their means of achieving a big boost in women's representation. The aim here was to force out Falorni and allow Royal to claim the seat for herself. However, Falorni still refused to stand down, and after Royal was declared the official PS candidate, Falorni stood as a dissident candidate.
Prior to the first round of voting on Sunday, Royal was forecast to get 36%, with Falorni getting 22% and the UMP candidate also expected to qualify to the second round. However, the result was much tighter than expected. Some UMP voters transferred their support to Falorni as a means of attacking Royal, resulting in a close finish - 32% to Royal, 29% to Falorni - and the UMP candidate did not qualify to the second round. So we will now witness a second round that pitches the two Socialists head to head, with no guarantee that Royal will win. Some supporters of Falorni see him as a symbol of resistance against imposition of a candidate by the national party over the will of the local party organisation. Members resent having a candidate parachuted into the constituency, and Royal is widely perceived to be using the constituency as a springboard into the role of President of the National Assembly. Royal has also been attacked endlessly by the UMP, who are using Hollande's support for Royal to criticise the president for getting involved personally in the election, rather than rising above the fray as he had said he would do. As well as using Royal to attack the president, the UMP are also making the most of the opportunity to heap scorn upon the one-time opponent of Nicolas Sarkozy. At a time when the UMP has little to boast about, it can at least enjoy a little schadenfreude. So too can Valérie Trierweiler, France's "first lady" and partner of François Hollande, who has made a rare venture onto Twitter in support of Olivier Falorni. Her public backing of Falorni is personal; Trierweiler got together with Hollande at the same time that his relationship with Royal fell apart. Hollande and Royal had been together for nearly thirty years and have four children together. There remains much bitterness and acrimony between Hollande's former and current partners, and Trierweiler surely does not appreciate Hollande's public backing of Royal. There has been a thaw, at least publicly, in the relations between Royal and Hollande; she was far more publicly supportive of his presidential bid than Hollande had been of Royal's presidential campaign in 2007). The whole saga, with Trierweiler publicly contradicting Hollande in order to spite Royal, has led one Elysée official to say "I expected the crises to be governmental, not marital".
However, Royal does enjoy the support of many within the local party, including the outgoing incumbent, Maxime Bono, who is retiring at this election. It is also possible that she might be offered a place in a reshuffled government at some point, in the event that here ambitions with parliament are thwarted.