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The French Presidential Election

April 13, 2012 Leave a comment

A word about the French Presidential election. Something of an educational item, as most of you will know very little about French elections. You might not even understand them at all. First, they are like all elections (spectacles), not terribly significant in themselves. A bit like the World Cup or the Olympic Games. As in any elections, one cannot be sure that any of the contestants to do what they say they will do, and they are all saying what they will do to win the election. In any case, in most nation-states, those who are “elected” are not the most powerful actors anyway. However, I am seeing it on TV all the time, people are handing out leaflets and you must share my suffering.

The things I like most about the French elections is that they are over pretty quickly, they have this wildly extreme view of equality and they are not totally based on being rich or raising money. The little guy gets something that appears to be “fair treatment”. There is, as everywhere, the “informal” election campaigning. This has been going on for a few months. The “formal” election campaign, which has recently begun, is the embodiment of French-style “equality”. Each candidate, and there TEN, gets to make a few videos for the TV, at the state’s expense, different lengths, free choice of background, subjects, camera angles and so forth. Then during “the official campaign” they play these videos at certain prime times. Everyone gets equal time. In the TV stations, as well as in a government bureau, there are people who are monitoring, to the exact second, the time each candidate is on the box. They are legally obligated to give the possible winners and the certain losers, the big and the tiny, precisely equal time. The last two nights, during prime time, each candidate has been questioned by a panel of four journalists, each candidate getting the same talk time. I find that amazing, even now after ten years here and three Presidentials.

So you vote in the first round for the presidential candidate you wish. There is no other election, just the presidential. In June there are elections for legislative posts, supposedly not influenced by the results of the election at the very beginning of May. During the first round you have the option of voting for someone you really like, not the worst of two bad alternatives.

There is the far right National Front, who might finish third. They get loads of votes and in 2002 they even made it to the final duel. They are at about 15%. they are fighting the Front de Gauche for third place. There are also the Europe Ecologie-Les Verts, a kind of temporary marriage of the more or less eco-parties or groups. They aim for double figures, but often get single. This year they have chosen a very good candidate, but she is totally wrong for a presidential election. They are currently hovering around two percent. They will apparently beat all the other “obvious losers”. They picked an older Norwegian immigrant, already a Euro-deputy, famous for fighting against Elf (huge oil company)in a very public corruption case. She is honest, sincere, says mostly the right things. However, she also is a foreign woman with an accent who wears those thick plastic round brightly coloured glasses. And she changes the colour often. There is no way French people, even radical eco ones are ready to vote for such a foreign woman with silly glasses. Shame really. The ecos made a naïve blunder in choosing a loser for a candidate.

There are also some other obvious losers, none of which will get much more than one percent. This also means they won’t get their expenses back, whereas if you get above five or may ten percent you get lots of money from the state. There is a young woman from the Lutte Ouvriere, another variety of workers’ party. They always start speeches with “Travailleurs, Travailleuses”. She rather impressed me in person tonight. There is also Jacques, who is a follower of Lyndon LaRouche, the eccentric maybe leftist American guy, but you will have to Google him. Actually says a few good things, wants to correct the financial sector, nationalise banks, create real banks and speculative banks, not so bad. He also has some quirky policies, for which he is cruelly mocked by the smart- ass, Parisian, orthodox, small minded, nit pickers. There is guy with a double-barrelled name who just slips past me every time, some kind of right wing nationalist. The most important other guy is Francois Bayrou, who claims to be in “the centre”. He is the guy you are supposed to trust when the rascals of right and left wind you up too much. I can’t figure out why he keeps going, he always loses, but then he gets on TV a lot, and he has a group who support him. His major fault is he is utterly boring. Or as a pal of mine put it, the guy just does not know when to die. He is at about 10%, but will end up in single figures I figure, as he really is boring.

My wife and I have the habit of going out together on the Sunday, walking to the polling place and voting. As a semi-anarchist, I see no real point, but I do it anyway. Once I voted blanc, which means they throw it away, just to see if I could do it. But mostly I like the ceremony. They (I know some of them) check my voting card. Then, behind a curtain in a wee booth, I get to put my paper ballot in a sealed envelope, and put it into a clear plastic box. They check the data in the voting book, say it is OK, I slip in the envelope, and the person behind says out loud “A voté”, (has voted). I then sign the register next to my name, and nip off.

I will most likely vote for the Front de Gauche. This is a coalition of groups from “the left”, and the alternative left. The Communists are in it, which challenges me deeply since I am firmly anti-Communist Party and have been all my life. But there are some altermondialistes too, another left fragment party and some others. The NPA is NOT in the Front de Gauche. The New Anti-Capitalist Party, a well organised Trotskyist party (4500 members they say), used to be LCR, Communist Revolutionary League, for those who follow such things. The LCR always likes to do elections on their own, so they can maintain a tight ship and have a clear party line. Overall, the French don’t seem to care much for continuity of Party Name, they change all the time and make coalitions with new names. Anyway, the Left Front seems to be running at a sharply rising 15%, just ahead of the Front National, or maybe just behind. In any case at half the score of the big two parties. I would really like the left front to beat the right front. Like I would like Montpellier to win the Football League championship rather than Paris. The fifth place should go to the centre guy. The success of the Left Front is a big surprise, probably the biggest news of the election. The candidate, Jean-Luc Melanchon, says things that are quite lefty, although sometimes very boringly French. He says that he would do all kinds of pretty radical things if elected, nationalise banks, control salaries of the rich (he reckons 30,000 euros a month is enough for anybody), tax the rich, fight globalisation, all sorts of more or less good things. And if he finishes third, it will be the most upsetting result possible for the French ruling elite. When the National Front (far right) got to the second round in 2002, people were well freaked out. So I vote for the result that will upset loads of conservative French and orthodox leftists, as well as give a degree of legitimacy to left ideas, which I sometimes agree with.

I really do like how it is not totally obvious that money buys votes in France, you can vote for someone you like instead of the best of the worst in the first round. I like going with my wife on Sunday and doing the “a voté” thing. You can only do that on election day.

Speaking of spectacles, Montpellier Football Club is still on top, they could win the League, which is very surprising. I like surprises. As a last note, the result for the first round is meant to be almost even for the two big winners, and the second round is supposed to be 55-45 for the “Socialist” Francois Hollande (as Tony Blair was a Socialist), who will beat the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy. In the week of the second round, first week of May, the run-off between the two of them, I will write something else.

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