PARIS (Reuters) - A year ago, France’s conservatives appeared headed for the presidency. Now the French right is more fractured than at almost any point in the modern-day Fifth Republic, leaving one clear winner: President Emmanuel Macron, a centrist.
Over the weekend, a group of Macron-friendly lawmakers cemented their split from the center-right The Republicans party, forming a new party, Agir (Act). In a further blow to The Republicans, three other party heavyweights defected to Macron’s Republic on the Move party.
This comes at a time the far-right National Front party is riven by internal divisions and fighting a new rival movement set up by one of its own.
In two weeks, The Republicans will elect a new party chief. The task of whoever wins will be to heal divisions and rebuild a party blown apart by Macron’s election triumph.
“The Right is in the process of breaking apart ... if this goes on we will be in opposition for 20 years,” Mael de Calan, a rising star in The Republicans and candidate for party leader, told television channel France 2.
De Calan hit out at those deserting the party. He also said the frontrunner in the party leadership race, 42-year-old Laurent Wauquiez, was advocating policies that would push The Republicans too far to the right -- an outcome which could prompt others to leave.
Macron, 39, dynamited France’s traditional political landscape in the summer, winning the presidency without ever having held office before and securing a commanding majority in parliament with a party just over a year old.
Macron poached cabinet ministers from both the Socialist Party and The Republicans, leaving both scrambling for an answer to the former investment banker’s stunning rise to power. The Socialists of former President Francois Hollande were particularly hurt.
“Macron destroyed the Left with the presidential election and now the target is the Right,” said Frederic Dabi of pollster Ifop.
Both far-left ‘France Unbowed’ leader Jean-Luc Melenchon and far-right National Front chief Marine Le Pen are viewed as stronger opponents to Macron, an Odoxa poll showed at the weekend.
Equally worrying to Wauquiez should he become leader of The Republicans is that another survey on Tuesday showed one in two voters were indifferent to him.
Wauquiez, who calls those quitting the party “traitors”, told Reuters last week that he wanted to unite the party and that France needed his hardline proposals on immigration, security and Europe.
“We won’t bring people together by being tepid,” he said.
His platform has, however, left moderate party stalwarts such as Valerie Pecresse, leader of the wider Paris region, and former prime minister Alain Juppe, being coy about their future.
“The Republicans’ problem is that they are not showing the French an image of unity or a (future) leader that embodies a solid enough opposition,” said Odoxa’s president Gael Sliman, adding that Wauquiez’s hard-right line was not popular enough.
Marine Le Pen, gloating, said on Tuesday that The Republicans faced a “catastrophic” situation. “They imploded in two camps,” she told BFM TV.
But she too presides over a deeply divided party. One of its eight lawmakers on Monday defected to a splinter party established by her former deputy in September.
Additional reporting by Mathieu Rosemain, Sophie Louet; Editing by Richard Lough and Richard Balmforth