22 Apr 2012

Election times

It will have escaped few of us that this year is pretty heavy on elections in some of the world's major countries (not sure quite how one defines "major", but the term is widely used and will have to do for the moment). I can think of the Presidential election in the USA, coming up in November, the similar one recently held in Russia (anyone care to define "similar" in this case?), and of course, for those of you who can put France on the map, the one currently under way here in France where I live.

Elections, in the democratic sense, are things that are not held in all countries in the world. And some of these countries are big, such as China, or very rich, like Saudi Arabia. In other countries elections may be held, but their results are not always upheld by those that really hold power (ie the military). They may also be rigged to a greater or lesser extent. This means that those of us who live in democracies should be pretty damned grateful that we have the opportunity to vote from time to time. And that we don't have people with guns in the voting booths!

That said, I am a lousy example myself. It is very much a case of "do as I say, not as I do". I have lived in France for close on 40 years and have yet to become a citizen of this country. I cannot therefore vote in major elections, although I am allowed to in those held for the European parlaiment, or for the local town council. I am ashamed to confess that I have never honoured either of these. It is of course a little weird to me that this country, France, in which I have lived and paid my taxes for the best part of my life, does not allow me to participate in the election of its political elite. But those are the rules of the game and, if you don't like them, there are 2 options: move elsewhere or ask for citizenship. I have recently decided to take the second option.

Now, assuming that I had made this epic decision some time ago and that the French authorities, in their great largesse, had accepted me as being, now, "French", for whom would I vote in the Presidential elections that are having their first round today?

You should first be aware that the French presidential election is not a parliamentary election. The President is the head of state, as in the USA. He (or she, but there has yet to be a lady President in France), is elected on the basis of direct universal suffrage (each person on the electoral role has one vote). Any number of candidates can enter, and the top 2 go through to a final round two weeks from now. Since the inception of the 5th Republic, the system has almost always put the candidates of the two major parties  (one so-called "right-wing", and one so-called "left-wing") into the final round. But there was one major exception when, in 2002, the socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, was beaten into third place in the first round by the ultra-nationalist candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen. The second round i 2002 then saw a massive 80% victory by the outgoing President, Jacques Chirac, as even the leftie voters rushed to block the possibility of letting Le Pen anywhere near power.

Nobody seriously expects that tonight's results will see a similar scenario, although Le Pen's daughter seems likely to come in third place, behind the two favourites: the outgoing President, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the socialist candidate, François Hollande.
The other candidates are a very mixed bunch. Likely to come 4th is a former socialist senator called Jean-Luc Melanchon, now turned demagogue and ally of the moribund communist party. His fiery meetings and cloud cuckoo-land promises seem to have seduced quite a large number of dreamers and protest voters. His one good point, in my book, has been his frontal attacks on the Front National candidate, Marine Le Pen. Equally unrealastic of course, is the latter's programme, which is also laced with the latent "fear and loathing"  content of all far-right politics. Then we have the "centre" candidate, François Bayrou, who came 3rd five years ago. He has played a very personal, but honest card that has had the result of reducing his electorate. Telling people what they do not enjoy hearing is never popular, but he is surely right about the necessity for France to get itself out of debt. There is also a "Green" candidate who has managed to lose most of the electorate that party had before, plus the usual marginals: a couple of Trotskists on the far left and another break-off one from the right wing.

You may or may not gather from the above which candidate would probably get my vote, if I had one to give. It would certainly not be the outgoing President Sarkozy, whose philistine, often flashy and inevitably flash-in-the-pan activities have not impressed me much over the past 5 years. The social-democratic party man Hollande does not generate huge waves of enthusiasm in me either, but he does at least seem to be serious and honest, although some of his electoral promises are quite absurd (but then who keeps electoral promises, once they are in there?).  Bayrou too seems honest but he has no chance. So I guess it would be a case of faute de mieux (a.k.a. "for want of something better"). All the same, I will be applying for citzenship, without too many illusions.