Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The [Unusual] French Presidential Campaign.

The French presidential campaign is now in full speed and it's been somewhat interesting to observe it.
Just as reminder here are the three major candidates:
But a number of things have made this campaign unique
  • there is no incumbent and there is no one from the "old guard" representing the major political parties.
  • the candidates tend to have different profiles than the usual contenders did in the past: one is a woman, another is the son of a Hungarian immigrant often described as Atlanticist, and the third one is the son of a cultivator with a more humble educational background.
  • for the first time the socialist party had a primary in which the socialist candidate was elected (not unlikely an American closed partisan primary)
  • there has been no traditional debate or questions and answers with journalists and pundits. Instead, the political TV shows have taken on the shape of Town-Hall meetings. This has been controversial of course as pundits and journalists have been sided. Some people have lamented over the demagogy of this campaign. True, but this may be the direct result of the incompetence of the journalists in past elections as they have repeatedly failed to ask tough questions and confront politicians when they distorted the truth. So now, one of the main theme of this year's campaign has been to be "closer to the people" in a direct way, however demagogical it may be.
  • The main political tv shows have broken audience record. This new interest in the campaign is in line with the rise in voter registration in recent months. This may also mean that the alienated and disadvantaged ethnic Arab and black African citizens may play a bigger role than in previous elections.
  • The far left and its neo-Marxist rhetoric seems to be losing steam (they even failed to to choose a single candidate) but the socialist party has also been hesitant in clearly endorsing the market economy. There are signs, however, that important things have been happening. One of them is that Ségolène Royal has been more pro-business than the previous socialist candidates. She claims that she wants to reconcile people with business.
  • All the candidates claim they favor law and order ("l'ordre juste" says Ségolène) and even personal responsibility. That's new. Not only has Nicolas Sarkozy proposed to change criminal procedure for youngsters, but even left-wing candidate Ségolène Royal has proposed to send unruly youths to centers under military discipline. Unheard of on the left!
  • The main issues have been domestic and that's not unusual but the topic of the debt is certainly new. So is the cost of measures promised by the candidates. There seems to be great weariness of promises that failed to be kept, and people seem willing to hear more reasonable less costly measures which helps explain the last point:
  • ... the rise of the centrist contender in the polls which has altered the dynamics of what was expected to be a two-horse race. François Bayrou has a program that mixes the entrepreneurial dynamism of the right and the sense of security of the left. This may not be enough for him to win the first round, but his vision seems to gain momentum.
The choice will be a tough one - which one could sum up in a choice between a mother-protector and a strict father. The middle-ground might be Bayrou but the idea of a coalition that could actually govern in France may be unrealistic. A lot of French may be willing to give it a try, at the their own risk. (the risk might also be to give far-right wing candidate J.M Le Pen a chance to make it to the second round as in 2002 - he tends to be quite strong and his electorate is hard to assess in polls)
More will follow soon....


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