Ségolène Royal put on a brave smile in the wake of defeat, but the battle she now faces to maintain her grip on the French socialist movement looks to be every bit as tough as the Presidential election itself. “I will take on the responsibility of rebuilding the left” she told loyal supporters, “We must stay united”, but it remains to be seen whether her party colleagues want to trust their future in her hands.
Royal won the socialist party nomination for the presidency against more experienced candidates such as former finance minster Dominique Strauss-Kahn and former prime minister Laurent Fabius. Those rivals didn’t appreciate being swept away on a wind of change ticket, and their post election analysis had more than a hint of payback time.
“This is a very serious defeat,” said Strauss-Kahn. “Even more so because it’s the third time in a row we’ve lost a presidential election. We must renew the party and I’m available to do the job.” Fabius called for a left-wing that wasn’t ashamed to be left-wing.
In a clear dig at Royal’s proclamations of independence from the party, he said the left had always been about “us” not “me”. François Hollande also appeared to rebuff his partner by publicly insisting that as General Secretary it was he who was the legitimate representative of the party.
“Mrs Royal will of course be with us in the campaign for the parliamentary elections,” he said, reducing her to the role of one among many. Hollande harboured presidential ambitions himself and has at times appeared unwilling to accept his partner’s supremacy. Royal is not down and out: she has shown in the past she knows how to use her popularity among the rank and file to shortcircuit the party hierarchy. But this time round her opponents will be better prepared.