Président ou Présidente?

The French are still making up their mind [Update – they have made up their mind: Nicolas Sarkozy has been elected President – more soon]. Once again in record numbers – the only official figures released so far estimate the voter turnout at noon at 34,11%, the highest number since 1974, apparently. One winner of the Presidential race is therefore clearly institutional democracy – although burning cars is probably considered a way of political expression by some, not least, Ségolène Royal, who, earlier this week, warned that a Sarkozy victory could lead to violent protests in some Banlieues. While that is certainly not entirely out of the realm of the possible, and Sarkozy’s reaction was appropriately forceful, accusing her of fanning the (possible) flames, I doubt it was a particularly clever move on Royal’s behalf, to end her campaign by scaring voters. Apart from that, she’s probably also lost all votes of those about 3000 policemen who are now spending the evening in the suburbs to preempt any possible social unrest.
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French Presidential Debate Notes

Style is clearly more important than substance in Presidential debates. Unfortunately, after 45 minutes of speaking time for each candidate, I was, quite frankly, very disappointed on both accounts. Neither Ségolène Royal nor Nicolas Sarkozy were able to present coherent arguments of their respective programmes. Instead, they kept constantly interrupting each other, Royal more so than Sarkozy, kept losing discourse threads (sometimes even without being interrupted) in pointless debates about specific figures or jumped from one point to another. Sarkozy may have been a little more concise on the economic parts (taxes, pensions, labour market regulation, welfare) of the debate, but he certainly did not “win” that debate by any stretch of imagination.
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French Presidential debate broadcast online

If the weather in France is even remotely as warm and sunny as it is here in South-West Germany today, I have doubts tonight’s televised debate between Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy will be able to get 86% turnout yet again. Still, if you would like to tune in to the debate, but you don’t receive French tv (or even speak French) there are a couple of options available.

ARTE.tv broadcasts the event live in both French and German, while France 24 will offer interactive coverage as well as tv-streams (wmv9, 400 kpbs) in English, French, and Arabic (links via wwitv.com).

French presidential election: brief comments

8:40: Sarko and Ségo in the second round then. Which means two important things. Firstly, someone at work owes me a coffee (I really should have bet for something more pricey). Secondly, the election that had been billed by some pundits as one of the most inpredictible ever has delivered very predictible results indeed: the two candidates that were ahead in the polls since the beginning get through to the runoff; the Bayrou insurgency receded in the late campaign, just like the polls were showing; and all the minor candidates were crushed, with the Communist and Green parties looking DOA now. The only half-surprise is the (relative) crash of the extreme right: but it is a surprise only because many thought Le Pen would get a big result, against what most of the polls were predicting. I sense the always-reviled pollsters will have a field day tonight.

Update by Alex: Libé carried time-series graphs for all the pollsters on Friday, and one of the striking things was that Le Pen had gained no more than 1 per cent or so over the campaign, whichever poll you looked at.

8:50 (Emmanuel) : there’s no denying that Sarkozy is looking good now. Not only is he ahead by a significant margin, but Royal does not have significant reserves of votes to tap into for the second round (the total of all left-wing candidates is around 36%). Much will depend on François Bayrou’s attitude in the next days but even if (a really big “if”) he calls his voters to support Royal, it remains doubtful that they’ll follow him.

9:10 (Emmanuel) : The much-awaited Bayrou is speaking. Begins with that worn-out platitude: “French politics will never be the same”. Big score despite negative media, polls and pundits. Strongly criticizes the two main parties. Hints that “decisions” will be taken in the next days.

9:20 (Emmanuel) : Official CW about Bayrou is that he won’t support Sarkozy and that he can’t support Royal (because UDF MPs clearly need the support of the UMP to be reelected in June). Hence his pox-in-both-your-houses attitude. One striking thing nonetheless: all the left-wing candidates have been falling over themselves to give their support to Royal (even the famously intransigent Laguiller); so far, no candidate has called to vote for Sarkozy.

9:47 (Alex) : Royal making incredibly long, incredibly lacklustre speech. Bayrou was bad enough but this is dire. You wouldn’t think this was one of the highest scores for a Socialist in the first round ever.

9:50 (Emmanuel) : Damn. Alex just wrote exactly what I was thinking. When you hear Segolène speaking, you always wonder how she managed to go that far. Really unispiring stuff.

10:00 (Alex) : Le Pen is gradually sinking with each update of the polls. He’s now below the lowest estimate of his score at the beginning of the campaign. And the Communists have done very badly in places like Ariége..

10:05 (Alex) : Thierry Maillet says it’s 1981 over again. Giscard got 28.3 per cent, Mitterand 25.9, Chirac 18, and Georges Marchais of the PCF 15. 2007==(Giscard:Sarkozy, Mitterand:Royal, Chirac:Bayrou, Marchais:Le Pen)? Perhaps. Maillet points out that many of the voters who left the PCF moved to the FN.

10:14 (Alex)
: It’s worth pointing out that so far, the départements that are reporting are very few, and most are overseas territories. As Libé’s front-page Flash map points out, the masses are yet to engage. Meanwhile, gurks! Eric Besson, the PS national secretary who walked out of Ségoléne Royal’s economic team, has announced that he’s supporting Sarkozy.

10:15 (Tobias) – coverage of international online coverage – the BBC duly notes the high turnout and realizses that “France opts for a left-right battle.” The BBC’s political correspondent Jonathan Marcus also states that

“Whoever finally wins the presidency, … it will mark a change of political generation and perhaps a shift in French international priorities, making this election matter even to those outside France.”

Quite right. The NY Times enlists the help of the AP and also notes the generational change, as well as the gender dynamics in play –

“If the results confirm that, France will get its first president born after World War II after the May 6 final round. If she wins, Royal will become France’s first woman president.”

Wondering about Bayrou’s weak results, the newspaper reminds that one principal motivation for many voters was not to allow the participation of Le Pen in the second round. Germany’s conservative “Die Welt” mentions that Sarkozy’s move to the right paid off in the first round but questions whether it might not have the opposite effect in two weeks, mentioning the importance of the Bayrou vote, the majority of which seems willing to rally behind Royal to avoid Sarkozy – possibly without any official recommendation from the former candidate. Sarkozy will now have to move back to the center, but Die Welt doubts his efforts will be convincing following months of rather divisive campaigning.

For the liberal weekly Die Zeit’s “Blog Tricolore” (in German) Alain-Xavier Wurst” files a report from Royal’s headquarters and notes that the mood is getting better by the minute after they realised that this election will not be a repetition of the last one. He also explains that one winner of the current election wasn’t even on the polls – the telecommunications industry apparently expects as many text messages as after last year’s world cup final, that, for the first time in decades, Jaques Chirac must has voted for someone else – probably Ségolène Royal, and that there are about three million new voters, mostly young people, many of whom live in the Banlieues offended by Monsieur Sarkozy.

It will be very interesting to dissect today’s result in a little more detail. A regional breakdown will be available at the French interior ministry’s site – but at the moment, all results are still empty. Don’t forget it’s a Sunday…

10:15 (Emmanuel): first second-round poll. Sarko 54% РS̩go 46%. As anticipated, it really will be an uphill battle for the left-wing candidate.

10:25 (Alex): Or maybe not. More results are coming in, and the gap is closing – 29.6 vs 27.4, with Le Pen tanking under the 10 per cent mark. PS, Liberation has a regional results map on their front page.

10:50 (Emmanuel): A lot of interesting tidbits in the Ipsos exit poll (pdf). Like, for all the talk about the underwhelming result of Le Pen, the fact that he’s still first in the blue-collar demographic slice (“ouvriers“).

10:59 (Tobias): Nadine Morano explains on arte.tv that Sarkozy wants to convince pro-European voters by explaining that he was the only one who wants to go forward with a “mini-treaty” and avoid a second referendum on the constitution.

11:05 (Emmanuel): France Info radio reporting Sarkozy first in Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis (aka the place where all those cars were burnt in 2005) départements.

11:12 (Tobias): Daniel Cohn-Bendit believes that Bayrou was in the end beaten by the problem that the UDF feels the need/needs to cooperate with Sarkozy’s UMP in the parliamentary elections. That, according to Cohn-Bendit, essentially made Bayrou’s “third way” proposal a lot less credible. Interestingly, he also praises Sarkozy for his ability to pull Le Pen voters into the “normal” parliamentary spectrum.

11:15 (Emmanuel): Another second-round poll, this time from CSA. And another expected result: Sarkozy 53,5% – Royal 46,5%. Among the people who voted for Bayrou it’s: 16% unsure, 45% Royal, 39% Sarkozy.

11:35 (Emmanuel): And the WTF award of the day goes to unknown candidate Gérard Schivardi (dead-last with 0,4% of the vote) who declares: “I’m a happy man. This electoral base will allow me to create a new political party“.

11:55 (Emmanuel): Droite caviar? Sarko gets 73% in his own (posh) town of Neuilly, and 58% in the (posh) 8th arrondissement of Paris. Meanwhile, Royal barely comes out ahead in Bordeaux, a bit of a surprise since this is the town of ex-Prime minister and Sarkozy ally Alain Juppé.

12:05 (Alex): Droite ouvriére. Sarko just sneaks it in the Pas de Calais. Even there, where the biggest city is still Communist-run, the PCF gets only 3.4 per cent.

01:05 (Emmanuel): well, the bottle of wine is empty now and the official results are still not coming, so just a last comment to say that I fully agree with Pascal Riché’s analysis: based on the first round results, Ségolène Royal really has an impossible equation to solve, considering that the total of left-wing votes and one half of Bayrou’s total still left her at something like 45%. Adding to that the fact that Sarkozy is a much better debater than she is, and it’s hard to be very optimistic right now if you’re a left-wing voter (which, I hasten to add, I am). But, as they say, one week is a long time in politics. And she has two. But she better get started now.

Oh, and a warm welcome to our soon-to-be-there 1,000,000th Afoe visitor.

This is what 86% looks like

At the French Consulate-General in London, the election is held in the classrooms of the Lycée Charles de Gaulle next door. There are plenty of lycées named after the general, but this one has a greater connection to him than most – the Free French air force had its headquarters in one of the buildings that now forms part of the school, and it was here in 1940 that suspected collaborators among the French community were dragged in by Andre “Passy” Dewavrin, de Gaulle’s intelligence chief.

Today, the French of London were queueing around the block, in the sense that each side of a double city block was taken up by queues, even though there were a total of three entrances. Such was the crowd that an ice-cream van was attracted to it, far from a bad idea given the number of children present. The people? Probably a population younger and more middle-class than the French averages, although hardly lacking in diversity.
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French Elections: Ticker

A few minutes to go to the official first results in the first round…

Unofficially, Ipsos puts Ségoléne Royal on 26.5 per cent, Nicolas Sarkozy 27.5 per cent, Jean-Marie Le Pen 17 per cent, and François Bayrou on 16 per cent, with OIivier Besancenot doing best out of the broom wagon candidates. CSA, which has been consistently more favourable to the Socialists, puts Ségo and Sarko level pegging on 26 per cent, and the same results for the others.

However, these figures are being constantly updated at the moment (see Le Temps de Généve). They currently put it this way:

  1. Nicolas Sarkozy (UMP): 29,4 %
  2. Ségolène Royal (PS): 26,2 %
  3. François Bayrou (UDF): 18,6 %
  4. Jean-Marie Le Pen (FN) : 10,8 %

There are also going to be exit polls soon enough. Everyone is clear on one thing, that turnout has been enormous: according to Radio France-Inter, the official figure is 85 per cent, although the unofficial data is going even higher.

Update

First official results (updated at 40% count)

  1. Sarkozy – 30.5 per cent
  2. Royal – 25.2
  3. Bayrou – 18.3
  4. Le Pen – 11.3
  5. Besancenot – 4.6
  6. De Villiers – 2.4
  7. Buffet – 2
  8. Laguillier – 1.5
  9. Voynet – 1.5
  10. Nihous – 1.2
  11. Bov̩ Р1
  12. Schivardi – 0.3

Crash for the far right…and not great for the Communists.

Update by Tobias – Sarkozy gave a conciliatory – or “presidential” – speech at his campaign headquarters, complimenting Mme Royal, thanking the French voters for a result that would allow the choice between, as he put it, two alternative sets of policies. He called for a dignified second leg of the campaign and hoped that it would amount to a true competition of ideas.

Update by Alex – Marie-Georges Buffet says all good communists must come to the aid of the party..the Socialist party. Pity there’s only 2 per cent of them.

Update by Alex – Arlette Laguillier says – for the first time since 1981 and the last time in her career – that her supporters should vote Socialist. De Villiers now ranting about “Européeisme(sic)” being a dead ideology responsible for abortion and euthanasia. Vote Sarko, he finally gets around to saying. Voynet goes Socialist, too, with the mighty weight of her 1.5 per cent. But what will Bayrou do?

Update by Alex – Olivier Besancenot calls on supporters to support the Socialists “at the ballot box and in the streets”. That should be enough to fill the gap… Also, DSK has been out calling for people who didn’t get their preferred candidate but want “renewal” to vote PS. Dominique de Villepin, meanwhile, congratulates Sarko through gritted teeth.

Update by Alex – Bayrou about to speak..whingeing about the pollsters..still blathering..and eventually says nothing..

Update by Alex – Le Pen says his supporters should abstain “for the moment” (eh?) but he will give further advice on the 1st of May. “Le Front National n’est pas a vendre!” But who would buy it?

RFI reports that 20 départements have completed counting, but the Ile-de-France (the populous metropolitan area around Paris) is still counting, with the large suburban départements like Seine-Saint Denis and Val-de-Marne still to come.

Update by Alex – Corréze, Chirac’s home turf, goes socialist by a distance, while the Communists crash badly in their old stronghold of Ariége.

Une certaine idée de la France, pt. 2

History is an important participant in French politics. As, for example, François Hincker, notes, the lasting impact of the French Revolution on the contemporary French polity can never be underestimated – „[c]ertes, […] que l’essentiel de la France con¬tem¬poraine sortit d’elle est une idée dont la banalité n’efface pas la vérité.“ (François Hincker, La Révolution française et l’économie – Décollage ou catastrophe?, p 5)

The Revolution forged a nation based on Ernest Renan’s universalist “plébiscite de tous les jours” and introduced the French notion of the Republic, which is, according to the political scientist Michael Leruth “… all at once a form of government, a collection of venerable lieux de mémoire and familiar symbols, a political philosophy, and a secular substitute for religious faith.” (1998: p 60) Moreover, it is an ideology built on inherently conflicting, sometimes contra1dictory, concepts – liberté, égalité and fraternité – leading to a normative aim of active statism that is markedly different from the liberal political philosophy of other Western democracies. While French Republicanism is founded upon the rejection of all kinds of privileges and expects the state to intervene and protect the rights of the individual, other philosophical traditions are far more critical of the state, regarding it as one major source of arbitrariness.
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The Suburb as Frontier

Just back from a trip to France, where this quote in a book on the history of Libé struck me:

Le Tiers-Monde commence en banlieue!

The Third World begins in the suburbs, in other words. This was 1972 or thereabouts, and it was a slogan of the very far Left.

Curiously, the same notion is still with us, but with the opposite end of the political spectrum…or perhaps this metaphor is unhelpful. Spectrum implies variance around a central value, along a single axis. It’s now the far-Right outside France, and its pals in the traditional French Right, who see the third world at the gates of Paris. The French extreme-left doesn’t seem to care very much any more, and the French extreme Right’s position is even stranger.

Back in the day, the growing concrete world of HLMs and sweeping flyovers across the Ile de France was the new frontier for the Communist Party. As the workers moved from the stinking slums of Paris’s railway districts out to enjoy their acquis social, so the Party would go with them. (Hence the towns where you can stage a demo between the rue Stalingrad and the hall Youri-Gagarine.) Moving out to the suburbs was moving towards the future, and if it should be a multicultural one united by class consciousness, so much the better.

Later, of course, it turned out more than a little tougher. As in most other places, just being a good trade unionist didn’t stop you being a racist. There were the betrayals of 1956 and 1968 and the internal crises that followed. Eventually, the roaring full-employment years came to an end too. But before then, the New Left had already found a new frontier in the suburbs – addressing the new proletariat, and the new concerns, whilst also getting around the Stalinist old farts at PCF headquarters and the ugly sense that a lot of proletarians didn’t agree with you. If you were a Maoist, the idea of surrounding the city from the countryside had an obvious attraction, not to mention the advantages of going to the revolution on the RER rather than the next flight to the Congo.

Later yet, with 80s structural unemployment, hand-wringing liberals and social democrats found it the moment to write a ton of reports on how to save the suburbs. It will be noted that, so far, the people who lived there are invisible. Very true. It ‘s in the nature of the frontier that there is never anyone there but the pioneer and the bad guys (Stalinists, pieds-noirs, cops, etc).

The latest take on this was the rise-without-trace of Nicolas Sarkozy, who made the suburbs briefly the new frontier for the Right. Having noticed them, he offered to hose the lot down, and here encountered another feature of the frontier – if you turn up waving your guns around, you’ll usually find a fight. Gunfighters were a vanishingly tiny feature of the U.S. West, compared to farmers, ranchers, sheep herders, railroaders, cavalrymen, cops, and Indians, or to put it another way, “people who did something useful”. More recent scholarship has tended to show many of the most famous bloodbaths as unnecessary, plain evil, or most often, the result of mutual stupidity.

In the general scapegoat hunt post-Iraq, though, plenty of right-wing people all over the world were willing to buy in – just as plenty of young idiots were willing to join the posse and run that city slicker out of town. This suited Sarko. Like all Ministers of the Interior, his core product is control, and the best marketing strategy for that stuff is fear. Unfortunately, he tends to evoke that in a lot of people, and a lot of people tend to evoke it in him.

Hence, last week, the mighty Kärcher called off a visit to La Croix-Rousse, in the heart of Lyon, for fear of left-wing demonstrators summoned by an instant messaging and SMS network. Itself a manifestation of another wave of suburban pioneers, the post-2005 volley of .orgs broadly supporting the Left and their voter registration campaigns. He did, however, manage to speak near the Pont Alexandre III in Paris – hardly the towers of La Courneuve – under guard by over a hundred cops of various kinds. A similar force as John McCain took for a stroll in Baghdad.

Which brings me to my final point. The latest pioneers on the suburban frontier are the Front National, of all people. While Sarko was struggling to manoeuvre around his own security, Jean-Marie Le Pen staged a string of appearances around the northwestern expressways, including one on the access deck at Argenteuil, where once Sarko wielded his metaphorical hose. Le Pen, despite his history, his ravings about making a “pure-blooded Frenchman” president, and essentially everything he has ever stood for, coped with a couple of cops and a squadron of journalists.

This points up the absurdity of Sarko’s monster guard force. But it also points up the weird way Le Pen is trying to win votes on the suburban frontier. Said the Black Panthers, “We want access to the American Dream.” And strangely, this is the substance of his address to the ‘burbs. He speaks of the equality of all citizens in the Republic, state secularism, and the need to create jobs by kicking foreigners out of them. Ironically, it’s just the stuff that was churned out about laicité, Theo van Gogh, and the rest in such great quantity back in 2004 – but this time, it’s directed at angry young blacks as well as angry old whites.

It’s surely a strange election. The PCF is nonpresent, its leader not even using the word “communist”. The far-left is almost exclusively a bourgeois taste. The Gaullist right has vanished. The “droite classique” has swung across behind it, from its right to a position overlapping the Socialists. The Greens have split three ways along the lines Charlie Stross predicted, between Luddites and techno-ecologists, but that’s not all. The Viridian Greens are well catered for by Dominique Strauss-Kahn within the PS, the fundamentalists by José Bové, but there is still a rump for the ex-minister Dominique Voynet.

And there’s the world’s most useless candidate, one of three Trotskyists, Gérard Schivardi. Polling around 0.5%, he has refused to suggest who his voters should support in the second round, and improved on that by promising to spoil his own ballot. Fortunately for democracy, he’s been so ineffectual that even France Decides 2007 got his name wrong, with a week to go…

Another Trip to 50-50 Land

It’s getting terribly close…

The last two opinion polls in the French elections put Royal and Sarkozy level pegging in the first round, with one of them showing nils apiece in the second round too. With numbers, the first poll, carried out by CSA on the 21st, shows Royal on 26 per cent, Sarko on 26 per cent, and Bayrou on 20. The second, by LH2 for 20 Minutes, puts the top two on 27 per cent each.

The really interesting thing is that both polls also measured voting intentions for the second round. CSA showed Sarko and Sego breaking 50-50. LH2 put Sarko up 51-49. But that’s not the really interesting thing. To both come in at 49-50 per cent, the top candidates will have to gain about 48 percentage points between them. Obviously, if you voted in the first round, you’re likely to vote in the second. Which poses a question: how’s it going to happen?

Francois Bayrou’s support is around 20 per cent. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s is 13 per cent. Olivier Besancenot is at 3, Arlette Laguiller at 2.5 (up 1.5 per cent!), Marie-George Buffet 2, Frederic Nihous 2, de Villiers 1, Voynet 1, Schivarni 0.5. A total, then, of 44 per cent up for grabs. Out of which, say, 9 per cent can be attributed firmly to the Left and 15 per cent to the Right, before the difficult question of how to attribute Bayrou’s voters. Assuming the Le Pen/de Villiers vote goes to Sarko, that would put the balance at 35/42 of the original vote..but how do the Bayrou Boys and Girls break? At a minimum, the Left would need to hold its ground, then persuade 7 percentage points of Bayrou voters – not far off a third – plus a majority of the remainder to switch.

Not that this is reflected by Royal’s rhetoric..

Nothing is obvious and nothing is clear

Ségolene Royal’s campaign is doomed. The total vote for the Left is polling (32 to 36 per cent) almost as low as it was in 1969, when the second round vote was between a Gaullist, Georges Pompidou, and a centrist/classical rightist, Alain Poher, with everyone to the left crashing at the first turn on a total of 31 per cent.

Ségolene Royal is on course to win. Her polls, ranging between 24 and 27 per cent, are as good as François Mitterand’s in 1981, when he got 25.8 per cent, not a mountain more than the Communist candidate, Georges Marchais, who had 15.3 per cent . And, since 1958, the left has always been in second place after the first round, even when Mitterand won the run-off. The French elections remain fascinating, even though many of the delightful possibilities have boiled off.
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