The campaign posters are up near a local polling site. This weekend, on Sunday April 22nd, the French will go to the polls to vote for their candidates. The two winners of the first round, or premier tour, will go on to compete in the second tour on Sunday May 6, which will decide who becomes French president for the next quinquennat [five-year term].
I wasn't always interested in French politics. But it's like a sports team-- the more you get to know the personalities, the more fun it is.
One of the problems with this election is that the probable winner, François Hollande, is deeply boring. The U.K. Guardian called him "marshmallow man," while the New York Times ran an article mentioning his "soft middle." No one really wants him to be Président. But Sarkozy is unpopular (except among French expats), Marine Le Pen is considered evil by much of the population, the ecologist candidate Eva Joly is no longer taken seriously, and Mélenchon, Poutou and Bayrou are not expected to get enough votes to get through to the second tour. If Dominique Strauss-Kahn had not had that contretemps in New York City, he would almost certainly have won the election... but as it is, the French are stuck with Hollande, the eternal candidate, who doesn't even seem to be able to produce a good sound byte.
Below, I do my best to come up with a few quotations, beginning with Hollande, who is currently in the lead in the polls. But the French don't always tell the pollsters the truth, as the 2002 elections proved.
Polls. "Hollande-Sarkozy, the gap is getting wider for the first-round election." On the diagram: "Voting intention for the first presidential round, by percentage [CSA polls]"
Hollande: I am not the "surprise package" candidate [You don't say!]. I reject the division of the left... Don't ask me to make a decision when I've said I will take it by common agreement [referring to an increase in the minimum wage].... Austerity must not be the rule of behavior.... If I am elected, my first duty will be to make sure everyone is respected and recognized, even those who did not vote for me.
[Campaign poster says: The change comes now.] His most famous quotation is "J'aime pas les riches," which was immediately taken up by a humorous blog, for he is a well-known member of the Gauche Caviar and in fact must pay the ISF [fortunes tax] himself for his large apartment. He has said he wants to impose a 75% tax on the highest salaries and has condemned "indecent wealth."]
Sarkozy: --You're going to give them a big surprise on Sunday!
--We can no longer accept people in this country who don't learn French and who don't take up the values of Republic... The border protects and reassures us...We don't want a Europe that's a sieve.
[Sarkozy is often seen as out of touch with the ordinary French, as illustrated by his 2007 election-night celebration in expensive restaurant Fouquet's, and associating with the jet set, movie stars and the super-rich. He has promised to cut immigration by half, has particularly attacked Muslim fundamentalists, and once threatened to clean out the "scum" of the suburban ghettos with a fire hose. He is the candidate of most businessmen and is preferred by the other leaders of Europe for his fiscal policies.]
Mélenchon ready to retake the Bastille [where he had a huge, very successful rally recently]. Cartoon by kind permission of Placide.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon: Whoever wins the election-- on May 7th, the world of finance will attack France. We will not be sheep, we will not be shorn...France will not give in, never."
[Campaign poster: "Take [the] power". Melenchon, a gifted public speaker, has aroused more enthusiasm than anyone else in the campaign, with huge rallies in Marseilles and Paris. He is the candidate of the French Communist Party, although he himself is not a communist, he says. Last year he published a short book called Qu'ils s'en aillent tous! or "Make them all leave!" He explains: "This includes the whole ruling class that benefits from the current shambles. 'Make them all leave!': the unaffordable bosses, the tax refugees, the financiers whose demands are cancerizing businesses. Make them all leave, the minstrels of the so-called 'decline of France' with their nasty choruses injecting the poison of resignation. And while we're at it, 'Make them all leave', also, those sports anti-heroes, gorged with money, skiving off taxes, armored in ingratitude. Get a broom! Shoo! Let in the fresh air!" (See what I mean?)]
François Bayrou: I'm a candidate so we can have a different second round. Sixty percent of the French don't want that second round [i.e. between Hollande and Sarkozy. Then, referring to celebrities who ally themselves with whoever is in power] You can't build a country with people who are sometimes here, sometimes there ... It's a French disease.
[Bayrou is a perpetual centrist candidate and is being courted by right and left alike. He may well be a cabinet member of the next president, or even Prime Minister.]
[Campaign poster says, "Let the capitalists pay for their crises! Our lives are worth more than their profits." Poutou has been "the revelation of the election" in the polls, attracting positive attention, even though he says he is not actually interested in being president.]
Eva Joly: I'm stuck between the weak left and the crazy left.
[Campaign poster: "Ecology, the true change"]
Marine Le Pen: [to a TV journalist] You're accusing me of what, exactly, Madame, with your little pinched air?... I am fighting against racism, against the positive discrimination that gives rights to people by color of skin or origin, I am actually the only one fighting for equality.... Watch out, "Le Pen" means "the boss." [in Breton]
[Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, is the French nationalist candidate, whose preferred French figure is Joan of Arc, who drove the foreigners out of France. She may be a surprise in the election because she is more popular than you can see in the polls, as voters often don't want to tell pollsters they are voting for her. The day after I took this photo, this poster was literally defaced, with her eyes, nose and mouth scratched out.]