The French 'Euro' Election

Presidential Message in Papers Fails
to Spark Lackluster Campaign

by Ric Erickson

Paris:-Sunday,11. May 1997:- Last Wednesday, President Jacques Chirac chose 14 major daily papers outside Paris to convey a message of support for his conservative government team. The newspapers that didn't get this this 'exclusive' were not happy about it.

Paris' own Libération, also excluded, secured the text all the same and published it in its Wednesday edition - on page 13. They also put the president on the cover page; shown peering into the distance - page right - with the headline above: "Chirac Cherche Son Elan."

Le Parisien also printed the President's text on Wednesday, but I don't know if they were 'excluded' of 'included' because of their national Aujourd'hui editions.

The first evocation of 'Elan' as 'nouvel' has not received Socialist- Jean-Pierre Mottura the expected jubilation and this has now been modified to an 'Elan Partagé' - which I think I heard or read, is a hint that 'élan' might possibly be shareable with the opposition, if they win the election.

The president's message was published on the second anniversary of his residence in the Elysée Palace. As an sour-grapes anniversary present, two-thirds of French voters told pollsters they were unimpressed with his efforts to preside over the country.

If the president's message seemed to be a general flop, the electorate were reassured by the equally bland message from Socialist leader Lionel Jospin, published as a response in Friday's newspapers, without 'exclusions.'

Libération scored the match: zero-zero. This is also a French expression for 'tie,' or equal score. The actual expression is, 'match nul,' which doesn't always reflect the real situation of the game. However, Libération put them both on its Friday cover, properly positioned left and right; but put Jospin's message on page three, running over to page four.

Lionel Jospin commands a certain respect for the way he carried the Socialist flag as a sort of 'emergency' candidate against Jacques Chirac in the presidential elections two years ago. Respect, because he started late but came on fighting: respect because he managed to gather a good score against considerable odds.

The present Prime Minister, Alain Juppé, although Mayor of Bordeaux and elected deputy to the National Assembly, was appointed by the President to his post. Despite a constantly dismal standing in the polls, it is Alain Juppé who is heading the conservative campaign in these national elections.

So we have the curious effect of Lionel Jospin running against Alain Juppé, and re-running his 1995 campaign against Jacques Chirac. If the left wins, Jospin will likely be appointed Prime Minister - as leader of his party. But he will have 'won' the post and not be an 'appointee' exactly. He will have been voted in.

If the conservatives win, then Alain Juppé will be 'legitimized' by popular vote, and by this logic, he should rise in esteem.

At the moment, with only a couple of weeks to go until the first round of balloting, it seems as if the campaign is being dominated by two negatives. Nobody wants Alain Juppé to be Prime Minister anymore, and a lot of potential leftist voters are uneasy about the Socialist alliance with the Communists.

Ladies On the Campaign Trail

For the 550-odd seats at stake in the National Assembly, the Socialists have put forward 157 lady candidates. This is apparently some promise they made to run at least 25 percent, or was it 33 percent? - anyway they are following it pretty closely.

Many of these ladies have been 'parachuted' into rural conservative strongholds, and are facing no easy victories.

I don't know how well 'parachutage' is received generally, but it is a common practice. All parties RPR/UDF- Anne-Marie Idrac are running candidates in all electoral districts; but in many cases they have no suitable local candidate, so they 'parachute' an outsider in.

In a snap election like this one, it is no easy job to suddenly drop everything and run off to the other end of the country, to run around shaking hands with strangers, and perhaps to suffer the resentment of local aspirants. Having the wrong department number on a license plate can also be a handicap.

If the conservatives have a policy about a 'quota' of lady candidates I haven't heard about it. If I've gotten it right, there were seven ladies the first conservative cabinet, but by the time the assembly was dissolved, there was only one.

Nevertheless, all seven are out campaigning again - for either the RPR or the UDF parties - and some of them are quite open about not being campaigners for Alain Juppé.

The French Primaries

There is no 'Primary' system of selecting candidates as such in France. The local party machine puts up a candidate and that's the one. However, there seems to be nothing to prevent any other party member from running; I guess there is some method independent of parties for becoming an official candidate.

For some other reason, the conservatives seem to be kind of antsy this time around, and 13 out of the 99 electoral districts in the Ile-de-France have multiple conservative runners.

Here is an example: in the Val-de-Marne district of Nogent, there are no less than three conservative aspirants. The sitting RPR man, Roland Nungesser is not running again and the right have chosen Pierre Aubrey, mayor of Joinville, to represent Rad.Right- Ghislain de Compreignac the RPR-UDF list. This has not stopped Marie-Estelle Debaecher - Divers Droit - and mayor of Nogent; and Jacques Martin - RPR - and Nogent city council member, from also contesting the seat in the name of the conservatives.

So in the general election, these three will all be running as conservatives, with the likelihood that the right-wing vote will leave none of them in a good position in a one-to-one second-round majority-winner contest.

Where the Socialists and the Communists could have both put up candidates, in most cases they've flipped coins or drawn straws to decide on a unique candidate; one that both parties can pull for.

There are a total of 1,532 candidates running in the Ile-de-France, contesting 99 seats. After the second round, there will be 1,433 losers. There are 13 official parties, by the way.

Headline of the Week

In Thursday's Le Parisien: "Les Socialists n'Excluent Plus la Victoire"

Question of the Week

Are you a right-wing liberal or a left-wing liberal?

TV Appearance of the Week

Former President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was the talking-head on France Two's TV-News last Wednesday. He is a droll fellow who has been there, see it all and done it all, and doesn't appear to be overwhelmed by 'former-Presidenthood.'

I think he sounds like Jimmy Stewart speaking French; but I am pretty sure Giscard was no 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.' For a man who had the highest political office in the land, he comes across as undogmatic and thoughtful. He seems to like a joke too, but every once in a while, there is a glimpse of a steel glint in his eyes.

What the Polls are Saying

Friday's Libération gives 290 seats for the right and 286 for the left. I think new polling results are announced about every fifteen minutes - so these numbers are as good as any.

13 Days Left Until Election Day


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