The recent announcement by former Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand that he would run in the 2022 presidential election has done little to clarify who will be the center-right’s main candidate. The upcoming regional elections to be held on 20 and 27 June are unlikely to solve the issue, which will probably only be settled in the autumn. Meanwhile, left-wing parties are holding a meeting on 17 April to discuss a potential unified presidential bid. However, the main left-wing leaders are unlikely to agree on a single candidate at this stage.
Bertrand’s early presidential bid is a move designed to become the candidate of the center-right by default. Having left The Republicans (LR) in 2017 after Laurent Wauquiez became party leader, his strategy is to gain enough support in opinion polls to force other potential center-right candidates to rally behind him (he is currently polling at 16% in the first round, behind President Emmanuel Macron at 24% and far-right Marine Le Pen at 25%). Yet, Wauquiez and other senior center-right figures such as former Budget Minister Valerie Pecresse or Senator Bruno Retailleau want a primary election to decide who the candidate will be.
The upcoming regional elections, which the government has confirmed will finally be held on 20 and 27 June, is a signpost to watch regarding the fight to become the center-right candidate. Bertrand hopes that winning re-election in the Hauts-de-France region against Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) candidate and a unified left will allow him to claim he is best placed to make it into the second round of the presidential election. However, Pecresse (Ile-de-France) and Wauquiez (Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes) are also running for re-election in their respective regions; an electoral win would give them added political legitimacy to claim they are also well placed to challenge the Macron-Le Pen duopoly.
In sum, while the regional elections might eliminate some contenders (Bertrand has said his “political life would be over” if he loses the regional vote), they are unlikely to provide an immediate solution to the issue. If Bertrand wins and starts rising in the polls nationally, this will increase the pressure on LR leader Christian Jacob (who is opposed to a party primary) to convince other senior figures to rally behind Bertrand. If such a scenario does not materialize, a party primary will become more likely. Regardless, the matter is unlikely to be cleared before the fall.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the main left-wing parties are meeting on 17 April to discuss a potential “common platform” ahead of the presidential election. However, they remain unlikely for now to agree on a single candidate that could seriously challenge Macron and Le Pen. As previously explained, far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon is pursuing the same strategy as Bertrand by launching his bid early in the race. Melenchon has already signaled he is unwilling to give up his candidacy, which means the unity of the left remains a chimera at this point. Regardless, a recent poll (see below) shows that the main left-wing figures would struggle to defeat Le Pen in the second round, which means a runoff between a left-wing candidate and the far-right leader poses one of the biggest election risks.