France is in a political frenzy right now. The final election for president is this weekend, so politics is everywhere, non-stop. It’s on TV, in every newspaper, in my classes, on the street, at the bars. In fact, I can probably talk more about French politics in French right now than I can about American politics in English. Sorry, Romney. Sorry, Obama. You ain’t got nothing on Sarkozy and Hollande.
I’m sure you’re curious: What’s all the hype about? In the off-chance you’re not, you probably can stop reading this blog post now. But I personally find it fascinating, and I hope you might, too.
Here’s how the French presidential election works. At the end of April, there’s a first round of votes, known as the first “tour,” for which all the major candidates are on the ballot. This year, 10 candidates ran, ranging in political views from far right to far left. (Or, by U.S. standards: right to far, far, far left.) If no candidate gets 50 percent of the votes, there’s a second tour at the beginning of May with just the top two contenders.
So now, we have the moderate right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, who, over the past five years, has become the most unpopular president in modern French history. But then again, what president is popular? So that didn’t stop 27 percent of the French from voting for him during the first tour. He’s running against the socialist (in France, moderate left) candidate François Hollande, who lacks some of Sarkozy’s stage presence but tallied up 28 percent. And wouldn’t you know it? They don’t agree on much.
And we can’t forget about the contenders behind door three and door four: the extreme right, shut-off-France-from-the-rest-of-the-world candidate and the extreme left, communist candidate. Even though they’re not on the ballot in the second tour, they still have large amounts of voters, and therefore political power, to command. The right-wing woman told her supporters just to go to the voting booth and turn in a blank slip of paper. The #5 candidate from the first tour told his supporters to vote for Hollande. And so on, and so on. Ah, the drama! The suspense!
In France, knowledge about politics is practically a requirement. There are 46 million voters, and 80 percent of them voted in the preliminary tour. Eighty percent! The final presidential debate on Wednesday had 18 million viewers. I recently read an article about the political activism of French high school students. They can’t even vote yet! But in everyday French life, talking about politics is like talking about the weather or food. Was it sunny today in Aix? How’s your ham and emmental crepe? And, tell me — what do you think of Sarkozy?