Did one tweet, a message sent using a mere handful of words but later splashed across headlines and screens of the French media, really cause the failure of Ségolène Royal – a former presidential candidate no less – to win a seat in the newly-elected Senate, where her party, the Parti Socialiste, now has a majority?
The Parti Socialiste is in the throes of delighted victory. Its leader, François Hollande, is the new president of the French Republic, and as the results came in on Sunday evening, it was clear that the socialist left was going to secure a solid majority. Champagne bottles were no doubt popping and successful candidates were being interviewed on TV, wreathed in smiles. So how was it that someone as popular as Ségolène Royal, who once seemed to have a chance of becoming France's first female president, did not even manage to secure her seat?
There were both political and personal factors involved here. The political ones involve the way the French voting system works. There are two rounds – first for the president, then for the representatives in the Senate. In the first round of the latter, several candidates get knocked out. They do not secure enough votes to go on to the second round. Ségolène Royal did well in the first round – no surprise there, it was expected. But the other candidate who secured a high number of votes turned out also to be a candidate de gauche. In such a case, it is normal, assumed even, that the second candidate will step down in favour of the first, but this second candidate, Olivier Falorni, declined to do so. Defying the party leadership, he determined to stand again in the second round. Two candidates of the left were then competing against each other.
Then came the famous tweet revealing these differences between the French system and our own, with this anomaly of two candidates of virtually the same political colour standing against each other. But this was really a subtext to the overt drama that was splashed across headlines and TV screens.
The story of the tweet goes (roughly) like this. For those who remember France's presidential campaign in 2007, the contender de gauche was Ségolène Royal, defeated by Sarkozy, who became president. Her husband at the time, also a left politician, stayed fairly discreetly in the background during that campaign. His name? François Hollande, the new president of France. His current success might have ushered in a situation of harmony and mutual support between the candidate who won in 2012 and the one who lost in 2007, but in the intervening years between her campaign and his there's been a shifting of personal alliances.
Ségolène Royal is now the ex and Valérie Trierweiler is President Hollande's new companion. While François Hollande as party leader publicly supports Ségolène Royal as the candidate backed by the Parti Socialiste for the constituency of La Rochelle, Valérie Trierweiler sends a tweet of support not to Ségolène Royal but to her rival, Olivier Falorni.
Olivier Falorni emerged as victor. And would the result have been different? Might Ségolène Royal have joined her fellow party members in the Senate
had the tweet not been sent?
So far, so marvellously dramatic. The current girlfriend, insecure in her position at François Hollande's side (so the press says, reminding us that Ségolène Royal and François Hollande have four children together) is seen as trying to undermine the ex, even though François Hollande has given her his public support. The personal has spilled over into the political, creating an atmosphere so soggy with emotional undercurrents that it could be wrung out like a rag. It may take a long time for it to dry out in the bright and sparkling rays of enthusiasm which every newly-elected party will surely bring to their efforts to put their visionary projects into practice in the real world. Photographs in the papers show the new madame looking defiant, the ex-madame suffering, but putting a brave face on it, and the president of France looks bemused. He tries to smile but his expression is more one of perplexity than radiant confidence.
At the root of this, there is a question of values. Freedom of expression is there for the making. The bank of means at our disposal – the gadgets, the flick of the fingers, bypassing that part of the thinking mind that considers, weighs, reflects – are the bright and shiny trappings of temptation. Freedom of expression versus loyalty, to persons or parties. For the tweet, broadly labelled as jealous or vengeful by the press, will hardly have supported the cause of her partner, the president.
The idea of party loyalty, or its failure, was also revealed, to me anyway, via this story. I'd initially assumed that Ségolène Royal's 'rival', to whom the famous tweet was addressed, would be someone of a different political coloration. But it turns out that Olivier Falorni is also a candidate 'de gauche' and the procedure of the two rounds of voting and of one candidate standing down in favour of another was explained to me.
Olivier, the rebel, did not stand down, did not put the greater good of the party before his own ambition. And while some may say he has the right to do that, it has fractured party loyalty and has not put the president in a good light. It may well seem to François Hollande that after having defeated his political opponents, he is now being undermined by a rebel member of the left, and by a rebel partner who would have supported his cause and ultimately her own, better, had she refrained from sending that oh-so-public tweet.
And who won in the battle of La Rochelle? Election results were announced a staggeringly fast two hours after the close of poll. Olivier Falorni emerged as victor. And would the result have been different? Might Ségolène Royal have joined her fellow party members in the Senate had the tweet not been sent? We'll never know for sure, but one thing is certain. Whatever your views on party loyalty, if Olivier Falorni had put his party's interests before his own and stood down, Ségolène Royal would be in the Senate today and the Parti Socialiste would be more united and stand a better chance of succeeding in implementing the social changes which they hold dear.
Morelle Smith is a writer of poetry, fiction, travel articles and essays. She has lived and worked in Albania and the Balkans