This Wednesday at 7:30 CPU and The French Cultural Society are holding a informal discussion on the French Elections in the IAB. It’s a deeply fascinating subject because these elections will shape the balance of power throughout Europe for five years. But if you aren’t up to date with France’s politics this might be all news to you. Well never fear Pub goers, we’ve broken it down for you. So sit back, grab your favorite French import to snack on, and join us on a brief tour de French electoral politics.
Nicolas Sarkozy is the incombent president of France. In 2007 he won in his race against Socialist Party candidate Ségolène Royal for his first five year term as president. But his Union for a Popular Movement (UPM, center-right) wasn’t just running against the Socialist Party. Twelve parties ran in France’s 2007 presidential election. See, in France voting works differently than in the United States. Instead of one big election there are two rounds, one in April and one in May. If no party received more than 50% of the vote in the first round, then the top two candidates go head to head in round two. That allows for France to have a larger amount of political parties, and ideally a more fluid political system. It also means that parties one might consider fringe groups, such the National Front who’s main platform is preventing Muslim immigration, can be very successful in the first round. This happened in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front won second place in the first round with only 16.86% of the votes, only to be trounced by Jacques Chirac in the second round.
Sarkozy didn’t win his second round in 2007 nearly as easily as Chirac did, partially due to his opponent not being a far-right radical. His presidency was marked by some early successes, especially in environmental policy (Columbia even ranked France as the most environmentally respectful out of all the G20). But Sarkozy’s popularity has waned. He’s to liberal for the right who supported him and still to conservative for the left to adopt him. He also has a nasty habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, with several gaffs during his presidency that have been criticized as either racist, intolerant, elitist, or some combination of the above. Once he even tried to convince people that he was present during the fall of the Berlin Wall by posting a doctored photo on Facebook. All that plus a struggling economy after the global economic turndown doesn’t give Sarkozy much momentum going into the race.
This is where the Socialist Party steps back in. With excitement lacking for Sarkozy and his UPM party, the Socialist Party has taken the opportunity to try and woo the French public. During Sarkozy’s first term Dominique Strauss Kahn (often simply referred to as DSK) became a very popular socialist leader and began to be seen as a possible presidential contender. However due to accusations of sexual assault of a maid in a New York hotel, DSK no longer was politically viable (even though all charges were dropped). So François Hollande stepped up as the French Socialist Party’s presidential candidate. Hollande used to be the domestic partner of Ségolène Royal (Sarkozy’s 2007 opponent), but they separated shortly after her defeat. His platform is focusing on the economy, especially increasing taxes on the rich and creating jobs. Unlike Sarkozy he also supports the legalization of gay marriage and adoption, and a less harsh immigration system.
The other major contender in the race is Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen and president of the National Front. She’s had a large media presence, appealing to conservatives who have grown tired of Sarkozy and who are strongly anti-immigration. Going into the first round of voting, which toook place just yesterday, it seems that Le Pen has failed to steal a position from the top two candidates, acquiring 18.01% of the vote. Hollande currently has the lead with 28.63% with Sarkozy close behind with 27.08%. But this is only round one and round two won’t be decided until May 6. Most polls predict a victory for Hollande, which would make Sarkozy the first president not to serve a second term in 30 years, ironic since Sarkozy’s 2007 platform was about limiting the president to only two terms. Whether Sarkozy gets a shot at a second term, or if his days Élysée Palace (seriously, that’s an opulent presidencial residence) are done, will be decided in the second round of voting.
Can’t wait to see what happens next? Then come on down Wednesday, 7:30 to the IAB and hear from our esteemed panel: Laurence Clerfeuille, Kevin Cormier-Ribout, Mikå Mered, Corinne Narassiguin and Emmanuel Saint-Martin. It’s (admittedly French) history in the making!