Friday, March 23, 2007

Your French Election Update!

The campaign has officially begun. The list of over 40 candidates has been pared down to 12. These are the 12 who were able to obtain the 500 signatures from mayors to sponsor their candidacy. The list is: Segolene Royal of the Socialists, Francois Bayrou of the UDF, Nicolas Sarkozy of the UMP, Jose Bove, the independant anti mondialist and Confederation Paysanne founder, Phillipe de Villiers of the MPF, Dominique Voynet of the Ecologist Party, Marie-George Buffet of the French Communist Party, Arlette Laguiller of LO, the Communist Workers Party, Olivier Besancenot of the League Communist Revolutionary (LCR), Gerard Schivardi of the Workers Party, Frederic Nihous of the Chasse, Peche, Nature, Tradition Party and Jean-Marie LePen of the Front National.
I read an essay today in the New York Times by a writer who wittily as an expert on Frenchg culture, tries to make some sense from a very stereotypical ly American viewpoint of the election. The writer is too trapped by his own wit to even begin to understand what is going on. He wrote about the unexpected rise of Francois Bayrou as the Third Man...a theme that has been trotted out for a few weeks now. His explanation is that Bayrou represents an uncomplicated safe choice for a France fed up with rude waiters...I'm not kidding, read the article, and implies that Bayrous' boring Catholicism and vapid manner some how counteract the drama of Sarkozy's bizarre marriage and Segolenes eternal Mona Lisa serenity which he reads some kind of sexual implication into. I have news for him, Bayrou is over! He peaked last week as is the tradition and his utter vapidity and empty pendantic posturing is boring everyone, including his most loyal followers. He was inching up in the polls, but now the steady slumpage has started. His whole campaign was his tractor collection. There was a stink about him throwing a fit last week because the bathroom at France 3 was occupied before he went on the air and some one joked to him, " Hey, you're from the Bearn. Go out in back of a tree!"
The real trouble here is the extreme right. It's the unspoken reality of rural and southern France. Racism and hate. The fear of the Arabs and Africans...No one knows what real gains the Front National has made in the last few years. No one actually admits to it in polls, but in the voting booths, the ugly truth comes out. Sarkozi is trying real hard to compete and take votes from them. Last week he shocked most of the nation by coming out in a speech for the formation of a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. The Left and Center were horrified and statements were made that it was an echo of Vichy France. It was denounced immediately, except for the Front National and the MPF who said it didn't go far enough. Sarkozi, though, is in the position to put words into action and his last days as Minister of the Interior are filled with daily outrages of children being taken from schools by police because of improper papers and held for deportation. There was an incident in a school today in the 16th Arrondisement of Paris that resulted in the Principle of the school being arrested resisting the police as they took young children out of the school. This is pure political theater made for the extreme right. Incidents like this took place in Orleans and a few other French cities.
Segolene was the victim of an American Swiftboat style attack. A finance minister of the Socialist Party left in a rage after a fight with her partner, Francois Hollande, the Head of the Party. Segolene made a remark off the cuff, "Who ever heard of Eric Besson?" when asked if it would affect her campaign. With that, Besson, quit the Party and made a few television appearances announcing his departure. He was the mayor of a village and an ex executive with Vivendi. In his televised interviews, he said his fight was with Hollande and he held no grudge against Segolene, yet a week later, a booklet was published and he had publicity appearances lined up. The booklet was a supposed inside smear of the Socialist Party and a real backstab at Segolene. In it he made the statement "I wouldn't trust my children with Madame Royal!"
In reviews and discussion of the book, so far it looks like it backfired. The real problem with Segolenes campaign is not her. When she appears, she is amazing. A resourceful debater and off the cuff speaker who can rally crowds like Joan of Arc. As some of her worst critics have said, the harder she fights, the more lovely she becomes.
The problem is the ingrained machismo of French Society, that explains the rise of Bayrou. He seemed like a safe choice to counter Sarkozy. The amazing thing is todays polls. Inspite of all the money and negative campaigning of the UMP, Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy are exactly neck and neck with Bayrou lagging 4 points behind.
I believe in Segolene and I think there is something yet to come forward. I think there are reserves in her that are yet untapped and as the debates start in earnest, you will see her rise and Sarkozy flail.

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