I have posted very little on either the French Presidential election or the Irish General one, both of which are going to be held in the next two months. The reason for this reticence is not lack of interest (or knowledge either) but simply because there is no shortage of other people doing so. With regard to the French Présidentielles I was surprised to read in Libération last week that the country is gripped with an unprecedented election fever. I can admit that good stretches of the country lie beyond my purview (and that most of the people I socialise with, both French and otherwise, are firmly on the Left), but I having followed the electoral campaign closely in the French media, it does not strike me as fervid as your average election in an English-speaking country would be, especially given the way that Nicolas Sarkozy, in particular, polarises people. True, it is less of a sluggish campaign than was the case five years ago, when Jean-Marie Le Pen sneaked into the second round, as the left-wing vote split into many parts. But, apart from a few of my students, who have let slip that they are going to vote for the free-marketeer, touch-on-immigration Sarkozy, there has been little talk among people on the election itself. Out of politesse no doubt but curious nonetheless.
While the lefty in me hopes that Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party candidate faute d'une meilleure, takes the Elysées Palace, this is looking increasingly unlikely, as she has failed to crawl back enough ground from Sarkozy in the opinion polls. Many on the left, dismayed at Royal's perceived incompetence, intend to vote for 'centrist' François Bayrou (though, as Alain Krivine of the Marxist Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire said this week, 'when a man says that he is "neither on the left nor the right" you can be sure he's on the right'). Bayrou is of a similar Atlanticist cut to Sarkozy though, unlike the former Interior Minister, he opposed the Iraq war. He has said that he will appoint a Socialist Prime Minister, which has succeeded in sweetening the pill for many left-wing voters, who are desperate to avoid President Sarkozy at all costs. Opinion polls suggest that should Bayrou face Sarkozy in the second round, he would win, carrying with him the votes of almost the entire left. Whether this will persuade many leftists to fall on their sword and deny Royal the path to the second round is open to question. Recent polls have also indicated that the odious Le Pen, in spite of only just gaining the requisite 500 signatures to stand, enjoys the same amount of support as in 2002.
Seanachie will not, of course, be voting, though he is hoping that Sarkozy will not be in charge come June. There are many foreigners here that see Sarkozy as a liberal strongman that will shake France's economy up and challenge the country's many interest groups. There is no reason to suggest that Royal or Bayrou would not do that either though; as one commentator pointed out this week, Royal, who took the unusual step last weekend of brandishing the tricoleur and singing the Marseillaise, is, like Mitterand before her, of being a left-winger with a right-wing culture. She is likely to bring France's bloated social model closer to a Scandinavian-style one. It may not be as radical as Sarkozy's plans but she is also unlikely to sanction paramilitiary-style swoops to seize undocumented immigrants such as was done outside a nursery school in Belleville last week, in full view of screaming children, and the subsequent arrest of the principal of the school for daring to protest. Sarkozy also intends to establish a Ministry for Immigration and National Identity, which has been judged 'nauseating' by the CGT Trade Union and which former Minister for Health and Auschwitz survivor Simone Veil, herself one of Sarkozy's supporters, has opposed. Sarkozy is a bitter little man with dangerously authoritarian plans, and France will do a lot better without him as leader.