Some thoughts on the upcoming French elections

Torstaina, 19. huhtikuuta 2012     1 kommentti(a)
Anaïs Marin
tutkija - EU:n itäinen naapurusto ja Venäjä -tutkimusohjelma
Some of the presidential campaign posters, France, April 2012. Photo: radiowood2000, Flickr commons Some of the presidential campaign posters, France, April 2012. Photo: radiowood2000, Flickr commons

Although I am not an expert on France’s domestic politics, as a French citizen who will fulfil my electoral duty next Sunday, I have been following the electoral campaign taking place back home. This gave rise to a couple of thoughts I’d like to share with FIIA columns readers. They are, of course, personal opinions with no purported scientific or journalistic value. Neither do they intend to increase support for “my” candidate, since - like 30% of French voters according to the latest polls - I have not firmly decided for whom I will cast my vote. Yet, these insights might shed light on the current state of forces on the French political scene.

The idea of writing a blog entry on this topic arose yesterday when I received from my embassy in Helsinki the official campaign material from each of the ten candidates – four-paged, coloured leaflets reminding voters of the candidate’s face, campaign slogans, electoral promises and government programs. Each registered voter receives this envelope in the week prior to the elections, expats included. The package even contains valid samples of ballot papers, so that voters can even simulate at home the actual voting process…

I was overcome by an episode of Proust’s Madeleine effect upon receiving this packet  with the daily post as I was reminded of the last time I voted from abroad, in St. Petersburg, almost exactly ten years ago. Back then the first round, which gave Front National (extreme right) leader Jean-Marie Le Pen a ticket to the second round, became a red-letter day: “21 April” even turned into a common noun in French to express the unpredictability of election results – opinion polls indicated Lionel Jospin had better chances than Le Pen of competing with incumbent Jacques Chirac in the run-off – but also the nauseous syndrome that followed for pro-democrat electors. The whole political class was shaken by the 21 April “earthquake” and duly concerned by its impact on France’s image in the eyes of our European partners. As for voters, traditional supporters of left-wing parties had no choice two weeks later but to cast their ballot for Jacques Chirac to contain the rise of his neo-fascist challenger, whereas even pro-Chirac electors found their favourite’s 80% victory had a bitter taste to it.

This time however, Marine Le Pen ranks much lower in the pre-electoral polls (16%) than her father did in 2002, so her chances of going to the second round are small. The same holds true for the other traditional “third man”, François Bayrou from the centrist party Modem, whose expected support in the third time he’s running is down to merely 10%. The surprise could thus come from the newcomer in the race, Jean-Luc Mélenchon from the Front de Gauche (Left Front), whose rating has risen over the past weeks up to 14%.

True, these three are far behind the main “elephants” running with the backing of much stronger political parties, namely outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy (Union for a Popular Movement) and François Hollande (Socialist Party), credited with comparable voting intentions (about 27 % each). Yet, depending on how Le Pen and Mélanchon score in the first round, the predictable transfer of votes in the second round from their supporters, to Sarkozy and Hollande respectively, might affect the campaign strategy and even the policy orientations of France’s next ruler. This, of course, will also depend on the results of the legislative elections on 3 and 17 June, which will – or will not – give the future President a “governing” parliamentary majority allowing him to appoint a Prime Minister from his own camp.

Knowing the proverbial volatility of French electoral moods, I won’t take the risk of prognosticating the results of the coming four votes. Nor will I bet on the probability of a new “cohabitation”, this institutional anomaly which cannot be excluded a priori . Moreover, at this stage I find scrutinizing the election campaign material I received from the ten candidates more entertaining... and instructive.

Some statistics first:

-        only 2 candidates use recycled paper: Eva Joly (Europe Écologie Les Verts, the Green alliance) and Nathalie Arthaud (Lutte Ouvrière, the only remaining Communist party, whose veteran leader Arlette Laguiller is for the first time in 30 years not running for president).

-        only 2 candidates do not use their own name as the internet domain for their official website: Sarkozy, whose website reproduces his campaign slogan “La France forte” (strong France) – a motto that was hijacked by satirists as soon as the campaign poster was released; and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who uses one of his campaign slogans (“Place au peuple”, meaning “Make way for the people”), leaving the other, radical one as a headline for the inside pages of his leaflet (“For the 6th Republic”).

-        2 candidates allegedly want “change”: Eva Joly (“Ecology, the real change”) and François Hollande (“Change is now”). Well, a third candidate could also be included in this category given that he calls for “A world without the City and Wall Street”. This is Jacques Cheminade, a UFO in French politics who actually advocates furthering space exploration in order to bring peace on earth…

-        2 more candidates voice out their message to electors in the imperative form: Mélenchon (“Seize the power”) and Philippe Poutou, from Olivier Besancenot’s New Anti-Capitalist Party (“Let capitalists pay for their crises”).

Interestingly enough, mother France itself is appropriated in four campaign slogans, adorned with different adjectives, of course: it is “strong” in Sarkozy’s “La France forte”; “standing together” in Bayrou’s “La France solidaire”; “free” in independent candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s “La France libre” (reminding of WWII Résistance movement) or simply “yes” in Marine Le Pen’s “Oui, la France”.

The most interesting feature, however, is the obvious unbalance between left- and right-wing offers in this race: leaving aside the centrist candidate, by definition “in between”, all candidates except for two (Sarkozy and Le Pen) are from the left side of the political chessboard. This, in turn, can help explain why, if opinion polls rightly predict the 6 May vote results at all, socialist François Hollande has indeed better chances of gathering more votes (56%) than incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy (44%). Yet, as 21 April showed, there is room for surprises in French elections…

Kirjoitukset edustavat kirjoittajien henkilökohtaisia näkemyksiä.

Keskustelu (1 kommenttia)

23.4.2012, Anais Marin

The "21 April" rhetoric is back, given Marine Le Pen's high score (18,6%). Detailed results, region by region, city by city, with comparative figures with the 2002 and 2007 elections, are available on this interactive map:

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