Friday, 6 April 2007

French presidential elections heat up

The race for the office of president of France is heating up. First round voting begins on the 22nd.

This race will see a new ideology in the main spotlight, trying to bridge the gap between left and right. In fact, the terms 'political left' and 'political right' were established long ago due to assembly seating. The main candidates are as follows: from the right: former finance and interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy; from the left: relative political novice and Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal; from the center (surprise, surprise): Francois Bayrou. Royal is the first major femail candidate in a French presidential election. Bayrou ran last election, but didn't even get 7% of the vote in the first round. I’ve read each of the candidates positions on a number of issues on their websites (thanks Google translation services!).

The Wikipedia article on the election offers a full list of candidates, the issues at hand, and updated poll numbers. Bayrou's political affiliation may seem center-right, but his policies are quite centrist. He is, from what I know so far, a very moderate social democrat — with economic views similar to my own. Out of the three main contenders Bayrou is the only one without an elite education. He is even still a part time farmer!

Sarkozy no doubt has the most experience, and Royal has the least, but that does not make him the best. (Royal did, like Bayrou, come from a modest background, and for her credit broke free from sexism and rode up the ranks of French politics.) Royal's seemingly endless flow of political gaffes have definitely tarnished her public image. Sarkozy has been charged with abuse of power and racism — two things the Fifth Republic hardly needs.

There is, however, a fourth main candidate, the ever-reoccurring Jean Marie Le Pen of the far-right National Front. No worries, his chance of winning is slim at best. Sarkozy's party, Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP, is currently the party in charge of both the executive and legislature.

Current President Jacques Chirac may still have some popularity, but many view his lengthy presidency — over a decade — as a failure. The former mayor of Paris failed to meet the promising goals he set up.

In the United States, for example, the Electoral College, comprised of people each state legislature picks, elects presidents. The winning candidate is the one who receives the most electoral votes, and since they are tied to the state of origin, candidates usually focus state-by-state. In France things are different. If there is no candidate with a clear 50% or more majority in the first round of voting, which is usually the case, the two candidates with the highest percentage of the vote face off in a second round. This year the second round is on 6 May.

At the moment (according to polls, see here also), Sarkozy is the leader overall, taking a third to a fourth of the vote, whereas Royal is taking around a fourth. If he faced Royal in a second round, he would win. However, if he faced Bayrou chances are he would loose. Polls can only be taken with a grain of salt — many respondents are unsure of their choice and may easily change their minds, especially once official campaigning kicks off. Official campaigning will start on the 9th and end on the 20th.

Whoever wins, the best outcome would be a better France, a France with more political discourse and less corruption and apathy; more understanding for newcomers but also enough strength to maintain law and order; a France who sticks to its guns in foreign policy, but also keeps healthy relations and utilizes fair but free trade. (All three main candidates to support a free market, even Royal — which is a good thing.) A major topic is also youth employment; we recently saw rioting by young adults over job security. Royal has recently stumbled on that topic.

Perhaps a Bayrou win will help transform French politics, giving a voice to the public through the middle of the political spectrum — which happens to be the most open area. Moderacy can eve unite bitter rivals, left and right, Euroskeptics and Europhiles, into more rational policies and less abrasive views. Extremism will leave one side or the other left out and annoyed — it will either stalemate the government, create a political rubber stamp and increase the ruling side's thirst for power, and/or spread a wave of political apathy across the nation. Centrism helps maintain political discourse, so the public does not feel alienated by the talking heads of the left and right.

There are many issues at hand in this election. Whoever wins will be the most powerful person in France, the leader of one of the great powers. Let the electioneering begin — and the insults fly — as the heat of the French political season is among us (parliamentary elections are later this year). More coverage soon.

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