It's finally election day in France. It's the first of two rounds of presidential voting, unless the unexpected happens and one of the 10 candidates gets more that 50% of the vote today. The French president is required to win more than 50% of the vote, so usually there's a run-off election between the top two candidates. That run-off is scheduled to happen in two weeks, on May 6. And by the way, there will be parliamentary elections in a month or two...
Out of the 10 candidates who qualified to be on the ballot, five are polling in double digits this time. The centrist candidate, François Bayrou, will get about 10% of the vote, if the polls are right. The main leftist (Front de Gauche) candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, will get 14% or 15%, as will the extreme right (Front National) candidate, Marine Le Pen.
The top two candidates, according to the polls, are the incumbent (le président sortant), center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, with 25%, and the center-left (Parti Socialiste Français) challenger, François Hollande, with close to 30%. If things go as predicted, Sarkozy and Hollande will face off on May 6. So we have two more weeks of listening to campaign rhetoric ahead of us, in all likelihood.
Some polls are saying that 30% to 40% of the respondents in all those polls have admitted that they might change their minds at the last minute, so anything can happen. Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, could knock out either of the two leaders. That would essentially ensure the other, more mainstream candidate of victory. The leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon could conceivably do the same — he surged in the polls a couple of weeks ago, but his numbers have since settled back a little.
Sarkozy says a vote for Le Pen, whose supporters he needs, is a vote in favor of his main opponent, the Socialist Hollande. Outgoing president Sarkozy is not popular, and he's afraid Le Pen might beat him in the first round. Even if she doesn't, it's not clear whether her supporters will vote for Sarkozy on May 6, or whether they will just stay home.
On the left there's probably more enthusiasm. Besides Mélenchon, there are four "minor" candidates on the left who will get some votes. It seems reasonable that most of those voters will turn to Hollande in the second round of balloting, if he's still in the running. Polls of voters' intentions in the second-round run-off have been showing Hollande beating Sarkozy by 10 points or more. People who want change might be more likely to turn out for the left-leaning candidate than are disappointed right-leaning voters who are tired of Sarkozy and would rather have Le Pen as president.
It's all speculation at this point of course. We'll be following the results on TV tonight. Coverage starts at about 6:30 and will run on for hours. By law, the results of the election can't be announced until 8:00 p.m., when the last polls close. The big private TV channel TF1 reported that restriction last night, reminding all that it would be illegal to announce any results « même en tweetant » — "even on Twitter" — before the appointed hour.
The vote tallying begins at 6:00 p.m., however, so there could be leaks. And the fact is that French law doesn't apply in the two neighboring regions of Belgium and Switzerland where people speak French and are interested in the outcome of the election. The Belgian and Swiss media are free to announce any results they can get their hands on, at any time they choose.
It seems strange not to be voting. In 2007, being a non-voting foreigner didn't bother me as much, because, I think, Sarkozy's election seemed to be a foregone conclusion. This time, change is in the air, as it was in the U.S. in 2008. I would have liked to be able to vote in the U.S. in 2008, and I'd like to be able to vote here this year. That's one of the reasons why I think I might apply for French citizenship later this year, once I can get all the required paperwork together.
No pictures today. The morning has dawned bright and sunny, after a few days of showers and sleet. We have fresh local asparagus for lunch. Life is good.