THREE MONTHS ago, Jacline Mouraud, a hypnotherapist from Brittany, opened her laptop, pressed record and offloaded her grievances. Her coup de gueule (angry rant) video against the rising fuel prices, posted on Facebook and YouTube, went viral. It also helped launch the gilets jaunes (yellow jackets) protest movement, which forced France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, into his first political climb-down when he cancelled a fuel-tax increase. This week, buoyed by the popularity of the movement, Ms Mouraud decided to shift her protest from the streets to the ballot box, and launched a gilets jaunes political party. Hers is the second such effort to transform a leaderless movement into an organised political force.
Ms Mouraud’s version, called The Emerging, has its sights on French municipal elections in 2020. Its guiding principle, she said, is to “remake politics around the heart and empathy” rather than “the rule of money”. With a paradoxical nod to En Marche, the movement founded by Mr Macron to launch his presidential election bid in 2017, her party, she says, will be “neither on the left, nor the right”. Among her ideas is a higher top income-tax rate and fewer perks for parliamentarians. After 11 weeks of demonstrations in cities across France, which have often ended in clashes with riot police, it was time, Ms Mouraud declared, to move from protest to proposal.
This initiative came only days after another gilet jaune, Ingrid Levavasseur, launched her own party, the Citizen-Led Rally (RIC). A 31-year-old nursing assistant from Normandy, Ms Levavasseur, like her Breton counterpart, has become another familiar face on French television. She says her party will be ready to fight elections in May to the European Parliament, and has already named the first ten candidates on her party list. RIC also happens to be the French acronym for “citizen-led referendums”, which have become a popular demand from the gilets jaunes movement since it widened out from fuel-tax revolt. Ms Levavasseur is less clear about her policies, insisting that they will emerge from the grassroots. But she shares with Ms Mouraud a desire, as she puts it, to “put the human” back into politics.
The transformation into a political force of a disparate protest movement, whose members are linked through social media and have widely diverging aims, is likely to be, as Ms Levavasseur conceded, “quite complicated”. Just days after she launched the party, her campaign director, Hayk Shahinyan, resigned, citing “doubts” about the venture (and concern about a gilet jaune who had his eye damaged in a clash with the police). He was followed by one of the candidates on her party list, who had received threats on social media.
Hard-core activists, who seek the overthrow of Mr Macron and have no desire to end the weekly protests, have accused Ms Levavasseur of treason. After it emerged that she voted for Mr Macron in 2017, if only to keep out the nationalist Marine Le Pen, she was accused of being a stooge. “A vote for the gilets jaunes is a vote for Macron,” declared Eric Drouet, a lorry driver who runs the most popular gilets jaunes Facebook group, “Angry France”.
For now, Ms Levavasseur says that her party’s role is one of co-ordinating different initiatives rather than a quest for a political monopoly on the movement. But even that will be tricky. Political sympathies among the gilets jaunes reach from far-left anarchists to the ultra-right. Ms Levavasseur’s fairly moderate left-leaning instincts are at odds with others’. In a TV debate with Ms Levavasseur, Benjamin Cauchy, a gilet jaune from Toulouse, said that he has been talking to politicians on the right about ways for the movement to “reclaim” an existing political party.
Established political parties do not see it quite that way round. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on the far left, as well as Ms Le Pen have been furiously courting the gilets jaunes. Protesters on the roundabouts, declared Ms Le Pen, are “often our voters”. That may be true. But many gilets jaunes see Mr Mélenchon and Ms Le Pen, with their seats in the National Assembly, as part of the system and therefore part of the problem. A recent poll suggested that, if there were a single gilet jaune list at the European elections, it would get 13%, denting both Ms Le Pen’s score (17.5%) and Mr Mélenchon’s (8%). With enfeebled Socialists (5%) and Republicans (11.5%), that leaves just one party that would widen its lead thanks to a gilets jaunes party: En Marche (22.5%), the party founded by Mr Macron, whom the movement so detests.