French Polling Station

Leftist Parties Gain Slight
Lead in First Results

First Round of National Elections
Sees 31.7 Percent Absention Rate

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Sunday, 25. May 1997:- At 20:00 this evening state TV France 2 announced the first estimates in today's nationwide voting for the next National Assembly.

There is little difference between these numbers and the latest poll numbers; official or 'inofficial.'

The outgoing majority party is estimated to have received about 37.2 percent of the vote. This is the total for President Chirac's RPR party, the UDF, and various other conservative parties. With this total, this group of right-wing parties could be expected to get from 255 to 275 seats in the National Assembly.

The challenging Socialist Party, lead by Lionel Jospin, scored 29 percent, and this could be good for 250 to 270 seats.

Liberation, 24. May

If this is added to the Socialist's partnership with the French Communist Party, which received 9.6 percent in the estimates - worth 15 to 20 seats - then the two parties together, have a slight majority. Their total percent is 38.6 percent and 265 to 290 seats.

The ultra-right Front National polled the expected 14.8 percent; but this would entitle them to a maximum of two seats.

The Greens and Ecologists, polling an estimated 6.2 percent, could get from zero to three seats.

The extreme left polled about 2.1 percent; and this has no potential for gaining seats in the National Assembly.

Results are still coming from polling districts in overseas territories but are not expected to change the overall outlook.

Voting Conditions: Weather On Sunday

After weeks of see-saw weather, this Sunday has been absolutely perfect. Cloudless skies, little wind and moderate temperatures - might have tempted some voters to head for the countryside and beaches for the day.

Abstentions, No-Shows and Blanks

Globally, registered voters who declined to vote are estimated at 31.7 percent. This abstention-rate is less than was expected, but about one percent more than in the last first round of legislative elections in 1993.

The Polls and the Web

The Island Nation of France has just received another warning of the dangers of the Internet; when the country was flooded by publication of French election poll results late in the week, kicked off by the Web site of the Tribune de Genève.

The publication in France of official poll results was stopped at the usual deadline of a week before voting, in accordance with a law dating to 1977. However, French polling organizations continue to run surveys during the final week.

They furnish their findings to foreign customers, and to any customers who are able to pay for them - and just about everybody in the world can have these latest poll numbers - everybody except ordinary French voters.

What started as a tiny leak in the mile-high seawall constructed around France, was turned into a waterfall by the Internet by week's end. When foreign Internet operators published the results on the WorldWideWeb, French operators were A2 shot of A2 Web site close behind, and the state prosecutor is following all of this, slowly but surely.

What is unclear in this photo is duplicated by a hypertext link at the bottom of this page.

State television France 2 has a Web site - see URL below - and I was startled to see them broadcast a shot of a computer monitor last night, which clearly showed their own Web site and the 'confidential' polls. This is 'news' indeed - State Television breaking the law - twice! - once on the Internet and the other on TV.

The supposed purpose of the law is to prevent the French voter from being influenced by a poll result; but this supposes that French voters are somehow more immature than, say, British voters, who can be exposed to polls up to the eve of an election. This also supposes that a French voter, will not be influenced by reading a perfectly legal editorial opinion in a newspaper column.

The End of the Campaign

Not only poll results are stopped prematurely. Campaigning officially ended at 00:00 Saturday morning, 32 hours before polling stations were to open today.

I thought I had a two-page spread, sort of a totalization of the number of seats at stake, a list of the number of parties competing for them, and the total number of candidates in all - but I can't find it. I must have dreamt it.

There are about 550 seats at stake. I read that there are as many as 14 candidates fighting for some of them; perhaps 6,000 candidates in all. There are a whole raft of little 'alphabet' parties, because Parisien, 24. May if any one of them can throw 50 or so candidates into the national fray, there is a state election commission that pays them something. Like, say, a couple of francs for every vote they receive.

This can account for the poster activity of little parties; they spend their entire shot on the first round - while those that have a conceivable chance of making it to the second round and a one-to-one playoff, need to keep a reserve for this.

Except for the few, almost 'institutional' TV-spots, news of the campaign comes from newspapers. The scope of it can not be covered in any intelligible way by TV, and radio is even worse.

Getting the first round of voting out of the way clears the air. Every seat that didn't get a majority-vote winner in the first try goes into the second round with only the two top vote-getters from the first round as candidates.

With Monday's papers, there should be a good indication of what's what. I will follow this for the week, but by next Sunday night at this time, the answer will be clear.

Six Days Left Until the Second-round Election Day

See next week's Metropole for campaign news of the week and second-round voting results.

French Election Web Sites

France 2 TV - Extensive coverage, including latest results from election day balloting.

Radio France International - Basic coverage in French also features audio files.

The newspaper Libération's own Web site - also featured on Metropole's 'Links' page in every issue.

Le Parisien's Web site also has complete election results.

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