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Elections: Uncertainties In France

  • April 20th, 2007
  • Posted by 7thmin

paris-signs.jpgVoting takes place this Sunday (22.4.07) in the French Presidential elections, with the main-party candidates – the conservative Nicolas Sarkhozy and the socialist Segolene Royal– maintaining an uneasy lead in opinion polls.

Lee Duffield has been testing the waters in Paris and says that the two leaders have not been able to relax, campaigning hard into the last days.

The last batch of weekend opinion polls confirmed a trend.

Nicolas Sarkhozy, from the ruling conservative party, the UMP, was in front with between 27 and 30% of the intending votes; but he could not get quite clear of the Socialist Party candidate, Segolene Royale, on 25 or 26%. Later polling stayed much the same. The influential CSA poll joined in with other predictions that this would mean a close struggle if, as came to be generally expected, those two candidates should contest the second round of voting – after all others were eliminated on Sunday. It found voters divided 50-50 on the two-candidate choice. (Other polls gave the break-down to Mr Sarkhozy by 1-4%).
For the first round there were twelve candidates representing a broad range of policies and opinion, from an anti-European Union group of local mayors, to a country party, the nationalist right wing, ecologists and radical left wing parties, including the once very strong Communist Party of France.

Among the small parties one young candidate, Olivier Besancenot, managed to stand out. He campaigned on a left program opposed to corporate dominance and economic globalisation, trading well on messages such as criticism of a law put forward making it easier for employers to sack young workers, (a somewhat misdirected effort to encourage the employers to take more on). His mostly youth constituency worked hard on the posters and leafleting front, but for all that the strong showing barely got past 4% in the surveys. It’s been a reminder that in national-scale politics the leading players, this year just four of them, must dominate.

All candidates were using every minute of the final week to get across last messages, mostly at large televised political rallies.

Nicholas Sarkhozy, looking sober and claiming front-runner status; encouraged voters to consider him already elected.

“I am speaking to all the French”, he said, “without exception.”

His campaign organisers admitted to some concern about “anti-Sarkhozy” feeling in the community, a product of, amongst other things, his tough line as Interior Minister in dealing with the 2005 youth riots.

He’s not quite a status quo candidate, being a booster for business interests and wanting more liberalisation of the economy.

The anti-immigration, right wing National Front candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was getting between 12 and 15.5% support, the same as he has for the last 20 years.

In the last Presidential elections an unexpectedly low vote for the socialists propelled him into the run-off against the then-incumbent President, Jacques Chirac.

He has said that polls are misleading, predicting that a late surge of support would again take him into the second round.

(His political party, incidentally, uses the slogan “red white blue”, emblazoned on the walls, with the word “white” made to stand out; it appears that it really means to be a white people’s party).

The actual third-placed candidate was Francois Bayrou from the centre-right party, the UDF, with 17 to 19% of intending votes.

He had stronger results earlier in the election campaign and saw some improvement later in the final week.

He filled the large Bercy entertainment centre, in Paris, on Wednesday night (18.4.07) with 17000 supporters and an army of news reporters, for his closing rally – considered a good omen by party workers.

He has been making a gibe at the main parties, that they have built “Berlin Walls” dividing the French, and he would like to be seen as the man who brings everybody together.

Ms Royal, meantime, managed to look very confident despite the second-place billing.

She would tell the faithful; “look out for some surprises.”

The Socialist Party program would look for a balance between the market and its insistence on social protection and retention of labour market measures like the compulsory 35 hour week.

What to make of all these claims for support?

Hugh Schofield, a correspondent with the news agency, Agence France Presse, has been working on coverage of the campaign, and judging the front-runner status of Nicolas Sarkhozy.

“One has to say he is the front runner, but you know French elections are always turning up surprises,” he said (17.4.07).

“I do not trust opinion polls; they’ve made mistakes in the past.”

He could not rule out an unexpected change letting either Mr Bayrou or, less likely, Mr Le Pen into the second round.

One surprise could be produced by a large number of new enrolments, which have been registered. Most of those are expected to be from immigrant communities likely to support Segolene Royal, should she be present in the second round. Possibly, though, that extra margin of support may be reduced by fresh anti-immigrant feeling elsewhere in the community, and by a skilled get-out-the-vote campaign on the conservative side as well.

Up to 20% of voters were not indicating any choice up to the end of the week before voting; some said the “undecided” figure was higher; so on paper at least, in the final stages, a close result might be expected – with the potential for surprises on the day.

The election dates: First round Sunday 22.4.07; second round Sunday 6.3.07.

Picture: Hoardings outside schools throughout the country give all the candidates space to advertise.