22 April 2007

Election day, round one

Today is Sunday April 22, and the French people are voting to elect a new president. Two outcomes are possible today, but only one is probable. If one candidate gets more than 50% of the total vote, that candidate wins and becomes president. That's not likely to happen.

It's nearly certain that nobody will get a majority. In that case, the two top vote-getters will face each other in a run-off election two weeks from today, on May 6. Who the top two will be is the question of the day.

Election posters on the rue de Belleville in Paris

Most likely, the run-off election will pit the center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy against the mainstream leftist candidate, Ségolène Royal. Some of the last polls taken this past week showed Royal pulling about 25% of the vote, compared to Sarkozy's 28%.

However, as many as a third of the people polled last week said they were still undecided, so other outcomes are cetainly possible today. Two other candidates are seen as positioned to spoil Ségolène Royal's bid to become the first woman elected president of France.

The graffiti on centrist Bayrou's poster says:
"Neither left-wing nor right-wing; THEREFORE RIGHT-WING"

One is a center-right figure who has been in government for nearly 20 years now, François Bayrou. He has been polling third. The other is the far-right spoiler who placed second in the 2002 presidential election, 78-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Sarkozy, Royal, and Bayrou represent the three mainstream currents that have dominated French politics for the past 50 years:
  • Sarkozy is the candidate of current president Jacques Chirac's party. Chirac, president since 1995, represents a heritage that goes back to Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou, who held the French presidency from 1960 until 1974.
  • Royal is the candidate of the French Socialist Party, which in its present form was the creation of François Mitterrand, French president from 1981 to 1995.
  • Bayrou represents the UDF party, founded by Valéry Giscard-d'Estaing, who was president of France from 1974 until 1981.
One of the many leftist candidates is environmental activist José Bové.

There are twelve candidates in all, and a lot of them represent small leftist groups that together might gather 15% to 20% of the total vote. If Royal loses out to Bayrou or Le Pen, it will be because those other left-wing candidates siphoned off enough of her votes to hold her back.

In France today, there's a certain nervousness over what the reaction in the northern Paris suburbs might be if two right-wing candidates make it into the run-off election, closing out the left. There's no love lost between the young people who live in those suburban housing projects and the leading candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy. Some fear unrest like the riots that paralyzed France for days in the fall of 2005.

By the time you read this, you'll probably already have heard the election results and other news.

We got back from Paris last night after a quick trip to see our friends Chris and Tony, who are spending a week there. We spent Saturday morning with them exploring the working-class neighborhoods along the rue de Belleville in the northeastern part of the city.

"Don't trust words," this big poster says.
Those are not real people up on the scaffolding and roof.

We saw this large piece of street art on the side of a building in Belleville. On the wall of the same building, down at street level, there was the graffiti below. It's hard to translate but the word cons means jerks, idiots, fools, or, figuratively, bastards or assholes — something like that.

This says: "Don't trust jerks and do trust words."

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