Although the French presidential elections will only be taking place next year, the French media is already buzzing and fussing. About political alliances. About potential candidates. And mostly, about who will be elected within the French Socialist party to represent it. French presidential elections take place every five years, with a large panel of parties. In 2007, twelve candidates were running. Whether this large number of candidates illustrates democracy or confusion is debatable; maybe there is a bit of both.
To summarise the French electoral system very briefly: there are two ballots; during the first round the two candidates with the most votes go through while during the second, one of the two remaining candidates needs to collect more than 50% of the votes to be elected president. Democracy translates into the diversity of opinions represented but confusion prevails when you realise that the smaller parties – in particular left-wing parties – never really have a chance of winning; the French Left is divided into different factions instead of constituting one block of opposition and this enables larger right-wing parties to go through.
To give an example, in 2002, the extreme- right National Front (FN) went through to the second ballot along with the equivalent of the French conservative party (at the time “RPR”, now “UMP”) as all left-wing votes were spread between different parties. Because of this, no left-wing party was numerically important enough to go to the second round. The 2002 election was unexpected as the two most influential parties of the country are the French Socialist Party and Sarkozy’s conservative UMP . It ended with massive votes against the National Front which reflected panic rather than actual support to former President Jacques Chirac.
My post started with the interest of the media in the Socialist Party’s internal elections; it will soon be choosing who will be its candidate for the presidential elections. These internal elections have been widely covered by the media since Spring although they will only take place in October of this year. A debate between these candidates (there are six of them) will take place tonight on national television. Here is the party’s presentation page for all the candidates – I’m afraid it is only available in French but it still gives an idea of the set-up.
Unfortunately, while the party seems to think that this is a sign of greater democracy – other parties do not expose their internal elections as openly – these elections, or “primaires socialistes” as they are called, are detrimental to its image. They denote internal divisions instead of the idea of a strong unit that will be running for presidency in a few months’ time. It will be difficult for French voters to trust them completely if they are fighting among their own ranks, especially when most of the candidates lack charisma.
Without being a big supporter of the Socialist Party in itself, it is problematic that the only “left-wing” party with enough weight might not be able to oppose right-wing parties such as the UMP which encompasses more and more discriminatory ideologies, or maybe even the FN. In the meantime, Sarkozy is travelling around France (his latest appearance was where new trains were being built: “le train, c’est la France”, “the train is France” – no comment); he was also very patriotic the last national day before the elections (14 July) by defending French soldiers in Afghanistan, and his wife is now pregnant. Nice PR, cliché, but probably efficient in comparison…
So far, so bad?