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The Presidential Race in France

Still Empty Notice Board For Election Posters, Nantes, March 2012

The French presidential election will be held on April 22nd and on May 6th, and I’ll be sure to vote. I even registered at the French consulate in Toronto to do so.

However, until this French trip, I hadn’t picked a candidate yet.

Living in Canada means that I’m relatively sheltered from campaign craziness—I didn’t even know all the candidates who had qualified, ten of them in total. But of course, this week I got a crash-course in 2012 presidential elections: it is the main focus in the media and the hottest topic on the street here.

In France, the campaign started years ago. In fact, politicians seem to be constantly campaigning, and there is little novelty—most candidates have all been in politics for ages. French would never elect a nobody—they value experience over new ideas.

I knew who I wasn’t going to vote for: Sarkozy, or any of the right-wing candidates. The Right has been in power since 1995 and France hasn’t changed for the better. I don’t believe in the conservative ideology and I’m sick and tired of hearing Sarkozy telling people to “work more to earn more”. The unemployment rate is higher than ever in France, and most people would love to work, period.

However, initially, I believed that incumbent president Sarkozy—who is seeking a second mandate—would win. I guess I was used to see the Right in power and it’s hard to think otherwise. Left-wing candidates are not exactly popular in Europe right now and let’s not forget a far right-wing candidate (Le Pen) was almost elected in 2002.

But I was surprised to see that as of a few weeks ago, Sarkozy was not among the favourite. With a disapproval rating of 68%, I guess it’s hardly surprising. But since I’m not living in France anymore, I hadn’t realized that he had so many former disgruntled supporters. When he had been elected in 2007, half of the country had rejoiced: at the time, Sarkozy was young (relatively speaking), enthusiastic and somewhat different. Yet French quickly experienced disenchantment mixed with disillusion.

Substance has been so remarkably thin in the campaign. Most candidates, if not all, want to lower the unemployment rate, improve the economy, spend less but better etc. Hardly earth-shattering ideas but mostly common sense. Candidates tell people what they want to hear.

The odds are still that Hollande (Socialist Party) will face Sarkozy in the run-off. But there is still room for two surprises. One could be to see Marine Le Pen, daughter of the infamous far right-wing candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, make it to the second round, like her father did in 2002. The other one, far more pleasant for me, would be to see communist-backed Mélenchon the third man in the election, as he is gaining popularity fast.

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