The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Thursday, April 12, 2007

An Ign'ant American's* Guide to the French Elections

[There are no longer any wallpapers featuring a famous Italian actress whose initials are M. B. linked from this page. There used to be one but for some reason it got to the top of the Google Image search list for that term, and 95% of my hits were coming from that. So I de-linked it. You horndogs will have to look elsewhere.]
[Yes, she is really hot, isn't she?.]

You know all about the French presidential elections coming up, right? Because the US media is dedicated to bringing you all the international news that affects your world, so long as it involves Anna Nicole Smith, Don Imus, or the latest Caucasian-woman-in-abduction-peril?

Well, you could argue that who wins the French presidency matters about as much to your life as who Anna's baby-daddy is, and you might have a point. But in case you want to impress people with your worldliness and wisdom at your next high-society cocktail party, here's a brief and bare-bones rundown of the key points and players.

The president is elected to a 5-year term through a two-step process: A first round of voting (April 22) determines the top 2 candidates, who then have a runoff (assuming no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, which doesn't happen these days) held on May 6.

Interestingly, even though the election campaigning and polling have been going on for over a year now, the official start to the campaign wasn't until Monday--which means that the candidates haven't been able to advertise on TV or radio, or by hanging posters (the traditional means of political advertising in France).

The Players:
There are 12 candidates this election from France's mishmash of political parties, including two Communist parties, two Workers' parties, the Huntin' and Fishin' Party (really), the Judean People's Front, and the People's Front of Judea. Only four of them really stand any chance of a double-digit percentage of the votes:

Nicolas Sarkozy, UMP (Union for a Popular Movement, center-right)-- Currently leads the polls. Sarko has cast himself as a rebel within his own currently-ruling party, now incredibly unpopular because of its handling of the riots, the Lebanon crisis, immigration and crime. As minister of the Interior, he has established a rep as someone who will do what needs to be done, damn the consequences. There have been murmurs of corruption (unproven) and abuse of power (such as using DNA testing to catch the guys who stole his son's scooter, a crime that usually only gets a shrug from police) about him; he's also taken a great deal of heat for his heavy-handed approach, which includes a promise to turn the hoses on demonstrators and very famously calling banlieue residents "racaille", which is usually translated as "scum" but which derives from the word for "scraping"--as in the bottom of the barrel. Recent voter-registration drives were very successful in adding many immigrants and suburban poor to the rolls, so it's unknown how well his poll numbers will hold up when the time comes. USA equivalent: Rudy Guiliani (without the 9/11 cachet).

Segolene Royal, PS (Socialist Party, center-left)--Sego was running neck-and-neck with Sarko until a series of public gaffes (like apparently not realizing that the Taliban no longer rule Afghanistan) gave the impression that her grasp of foreign policy matters was tenuous at best and Bush-like at worst. Still, she's charismatic, photogenic (like Barack Obama, she's not afraid of being pictured in a swimsuit, and she was voted #6 in a French men's magazine poll of sexiest women, ahead of such stellar examples as [Italian actress whose initials are M.B.] ... I demand a recount), and a snappy dresser; the possibility of a first woman president of the Republic is appealing to some. She feels your pain and is regarded as strong on social and domestic issues, but is she too much of a lightweight for the job? USA equivalent: A female John Edwards.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, FN (National Front, far-right)--In the last election, Le Pen pulled a stunner, outpolling PS candidate Lionel Jospin (USA equivalent: Michael Dukakis) to force the runoff with Chirac. Startled at the potential for a right-wing extremist to actually win the presidency, the various parties of the left threw their support behind Chirac to ensure his win. Could he do it again? This time around, the anti-immigrant FN has been reaching toward unlikely bases of support: immigrants who want the door slammed behind them and are sick of crime and unemployment in their neighborhoods. [See poster of a distinctly brown young lass giving the thumbs-down to the majority parties; text translates as "Right, left--they're all busted."]. The polls don't show a huge groundswell of support for Le Pen, but polls have always understated his support, probably because people don't want to admit to even poll-takers their support for an open racist. USA equivalent: David Duke, with a little Lyndon Larouche.

Francois Bayrou, UDF (Union for French Democracy, center-right)--who is this guy? He's not any of the above people, and that's probably the reason for his current solid poll numbers. Presenting himself as the third option for those sick of the UMP/PS stranglehold on the government, he's pushed ahead of Le Pen as the likely recipient of the "protest vote". The question is, whose support will he be siphoning? His political stance is not as well-known as that of the others, and close inspection of his generally centrist platform includes some head-scratchers (France should boycott the 2008 Olympics? The European Union is "the most beautiful construction of humanity"?). USA equivalent: A less-nutty Ross Perot...he's even got goofy ears.

The X-factor: The huge fraction (35-40%!) of poll respondents who consider themselves undecided. That's right, "undecided" leads all candidates. You've got a week and a half, people...better make some decisions.

So there you go--informed, insightful analysis from someone who doesn't speak French all that well, doesn't watch a lot of TV and usually skips over the Politique section in the local paper. If you want actual, you know, credible information, the International Herald-Tribune is a good English-language source.

*refers to the author, not you, Dear Reader.


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