First round this weekend, but most people outside la belle France still don’t know much about what’s at stake, or what it all means.
Then the Economist has a nice run-down of why it’s all so tight – with the New Statesman explaining just why the title of President is so coveted in France (if your guess is “almost unbelievably huge amounts of power” then you’re on to something…)
And, of course, there’s the general excitement. As the election could go any of four ways (far-right, centre-right, centrist or centre-left), the French electorate have genuinely got something to be interested in again, as the Financial Times explains.
For someone British – where in the last three decades a government with no real opposition that lasted 18 years was eventually replaced by a government with no real opposition that has lasted 10 years – the idea of such a close, unpredictable election is practically impossible to comprehend (not least because of our piss-poor electoral system). For Americans and others from two-party states, the idea that it could genuinely go any of four ways (well, three really – if Le Pen gets through to the final round everyone sane will rally against him, just as they did five years ago) must be equally bizarre.
But close and unpredictable it is. According to some reports, up to 18 million voters – 42% of the electorate – are as yet undecided. Which all goes to make these last few days even more hectic and volatile, with the far right Le Pen accusing the centre-right Sarkozy of not being properly French (Le Pen hoping to deport the majority of – especially non-white – immigrants) while others accuse Sarkozy himself of being racist, while everyone attacks centre-left Royal (but not because she’s a woman – OH no…) and tries to ignore centrist wildcard Bayrou.
At this late stage, the fact that as many as 40% of voters are undecided makes predictions very tricky indeed. But although official campaigning only kicked off this week, the elections have been dominating the political scene in France for months now – arguably for a good couple of years, since the “Non” vote in the EU constitutional referendum proved that outgoing President Jacques Chirac was the lamest of lame ducks.
If so many are still undecided after all this time, I reckon that gives a decided advantage to the least-known of the leading candidates – the person few people have a strong opinion about, and so the person most likely to be left after voters work out who they DON’T want to vote for.
The smart money may still be on front-runner Sarkozy, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Francois Bayrou makes another unexpected surge in the final stages. He could certainly – on paper, at least – prove to be the best candidate for France, and possibly (thanks to his farming background giving him the best position any French political leader has had in years to push for serious reform of the Common Agricultural Policy) for the EU as a whole.
In other words, pay close attention over the next few days. The slightest gaffe (at which Royal excels) or revelation about past indiscretions (which seem to keep on haunting Sarkozy) could entirely change the outcome. And then it’ll be on to the next round, where it could all shift again…