Rebel French lawmakers threaten abstention in confidence vote

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 09, 2014 8:00 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - Rebel lawmakers in France's ruling Socialist party could abstain in a Sept. 16 confidence vote on President Francois Hollande's reshuffled government, one of their number said on Tuesday of a move that would threaten his parliamentary majority.

Next week's vote comes after a torrid few weeks for Hollande which have seen dissident ministers ejected from government, his personal poll ratings slump to record lows and a damaging book published by his jilted former partner Valerie Trierweiler.

Hollande's prime minister, Manuel Valls, is now on his second government since his appointment last April and faces an uphill struggle to retain the parliamentary backing needed to pass the 2015 budget and upcoming labor reforms.

A vote of no confidence next week could force Hollande to dissolve parliament and call new elections - a scenario which leading Socialists still consider improbable despite rising anger within party ranks at his increasingly centrist course.

"We are heading towards a group abstention," Christian Paul, one of the rebel backbenchers' leaders, told reporters.

"We believe it is impossible to impose this superficial unanimity on the Socialist grouping."

Paul did not say how many of the rebels were prepared to abstain. That figure has varied from 11 for the confidence vote in Valls' first government in April to 41 for a vote later that month on public spending savings through to 2017.

With its 289 seats, the Socialist Party has a one-seat majority in parliament and can expect to secure the votes from the pro-reform Radical Left grouping, which has 17 seats. Thus, the vote starts to get really tight from 30 abstentions upwards.

"I am certain there will be a very, very comfortable majority of Socialist lawmakers who will back Manual Valls," Jean-Marie Le Guen, the junior minister in charge of relations with parliament, told France 2 television.

Hollande's poll approval ratings have crashed to 13 percent - the lowest for any modern-day president - over his failure to kickstart growth and employment, and as many French voters struggle to see him as a credible leader.

However, France's constitution gives its president the power to battle on to the end of his five-year mandate, governing by decree if necessary. Moreover, Socialist lawmakers know that if they force a dissolution they would likely lose their seats in new elections - a disincentive for going down that route.

(Reporting by Chine Labbe; Writing by Mark John; Editing by James Regan)