Ex-minister Taubira considers French election run as left’s ‘unity candidate’

Christiane Taubira, the former justice minister and leading figure on the French left, has said she is considering running for president in the spring and will announce a final decision next month.

In a video posted on social media she promised to “use all my strength” to unite the divided left. Taubira’s supporters had for months been calling on her to run to be France’s first Black female president to counter the rise of the far right.

Taubira introduced same-sex marriage in 2013, in the face of street demonstrations and heated debates in parliament, when she served in as justice minister for the Socialist government under François Hollande. She is also well-known for being the driving force behind the 2001 law recognising the slave trade as a crime against humanity.

Taubira, who was first elected to the National Assembly as an independent member of parliament in 1993, has been described by the professor of political science Rémi Lefebvre as “the moral conscience of the left”. A recent poll by L’Obs magazine found she was the preferred candidate of voters on the left – even before it was clear she might run. The same L’Obs poll found that 86% of leftwing sympathisers would like one single candidate to stand for a united left.

Currently the French left is divided into many different candidates and shown in current opinion polls as unable to reach the final run-off next April, which is forecast to feature Emmanuel Macron facing a candidate from either the right or the far right.

In her video, Taubira said: “I won’t be just one more candidate”, suggesting that between now and mid-January she would be part of efforts to bring together rival leftwing candidates before announcing a final strategy. She said she could see the current “deadlock” on the left and had always promised to take responsibility, which meant she was considering launching her own presidential bid. She said what counted were the daily lives of voters and ensuring French people could live together. She said people were facing daily difficulties, and uncertainty about their future and there was “fragmentation at work in French society”. She said it was important to “reinforce social cohesion without excluding anyone” and to act on the climate.

The French left has never fielded so many different presidential candidates at this stage of the race. They include the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo; the Greens’ Yannick Jadot; Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise, who has a more left-wing programme than the Socialist party; and the Communist party’s Fabien Roussel. All have so far refused Hidalgo’s plea to unite and submit to a citizens’ primary vote in January to chose the best-placed single candidate. Apart from Hidalgo, all candidates insist they will still run separate campaigns, despite opinion polls currently placing each of them at no more than 10% and unable to reach the final.

The difficulties on the left have been heightened by the rise in support for the far right. The combined leftwing candidates currently account for a total of only 24–29% in April’s first round vote. Meanwhile, the far right is becoming the country’s strongest force and has taken working-class voters from the left. Polls show the far right currently has at least 30% support, with two major candidates. The historic far-right figure Marine Le Pen is running for the third time, but she has competition from the high-profile, far-right TV pundit Éric Zemmour, who has convictions for inciting racial hatred, and who has launched an outsider presidential bid, warning immigration and Islam will destroy France.

Taubira, from Cayenne in French Guiana, has been praised on the left for her charisma, her oration in parliament and her pithy TV debates. Her supporters in Paris this weekend said they felt she would be a good opponent against the TV polemicist, Zemmour, who the Socialist Hidalgo has likened to a “merchant of hatred”.

Taubira first ran for president 20 years ago, in 2002, where she took just over 2% of the vote in the first round. That election was a historic moment in French politics where the far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen made it to the final round run-off against the right’s Jacques Chirac.

An OpinionWay poll earlier this week – when it was not known whether Taubira would run or whether others on the left might make way for her – placed her at 2% in the first round next April.

Last month, Taubira told a French TV show: “I refuse to accept that the presidential election is lost for the left”. She felt the left was the only means to “re-establish social justice” in France, build a form of “living together” and deal with the climate emergency.

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