Ho-Hum Vote Wins

photo: chez clovis, les halles

Beside Les Halles, the popular bistro Chez Clovis.

Warning: Transport Strikes

Paris:- Sunday, 24. September 2000:- Starting tomorrow, public transport will be affected by labor actions in Paris and the Ile-de-France area. This is the lead-up to a more general transport strike in Paris on Tuesday, affecting both the métro and buses.

Discussions with the RATP began last Friday, and the expected disruptions on Tuesday are not expected to be as 'total' as originally predicted. Two unions - the CFDT and CFTC - might have lifted their strike warnings, while the CGT and FO are said to be maintaining theirs. In Paris, expect a 50% métro service.

SNCF operations on Thursday are expected to be hard-hit because management is being stiffer with its unions. In the Paris area, several RER lines, as well as long-distance lines will be affected. Here, the big unions are in alignment, and the smaller SUD-Rail even has issued an unlimited strike warning.

For good measure, the CGT has also called for a big demonstration on Thursday, to protest against the new agreement between employers and unions, concerning unemployment benefits.

France Wins Its Sunday Referendum

Today the French voted massively in favor of reducing the country's presidential term from a constitutional seven years to five.

Tonight's TV-news at 20:00 was deprogrammed to another time or dropped entirely in favor of an all-party discussion about why the French did not vote 'en masse.'

While no less than 69.4 percent of registered voters stayedphoto: 5.5 caviar poster away from polling stations, those who took the small effort to go to their local voting centres were 73.1 percent in favor of the constitutional change.

This change was proposed by former president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing on 10. May. National deputies and senators endorsed the change, but it was up to President Chirac to decide how it was to be accomplished.

He had the choice of calling a constitutional congress - composed of deputies and senators, or having a national referendum; to let the issue be decided by universal suffrage.

In effect, the willingness of the assembly and the senate had already decided the outcome - so voters sensed a certain futility in calling for referendum.

Also the national vote seemed somewhat frivolous, with the President - of the current minority party - and the Primephoto: chevenement poster Minister - of the current majority party - both being in favor of the measure.

The seven-year presidential term has been around in France since 1873, and the election of the President has been conducted by universal suffrage since 1962.

When this was proposed, and adopted by a referendum, it was President Charles De Gaulle who actively campaigned for it - even though he was risking his own mandate.

For today's election, today's politicians have been responsible for the lack of public interest. Some party leaders even actively supported abstentionism - some with the argument that the question to be decided wasn't sufficiently important.

It's like, 'everybody talks about democracy, but nobody does anything about it.' During the three-week 'official' campaign period, nobody could be heard to say what might be the result of a reduced presidential term.

photo: verts posterThere were vague mentions of France acquiring a 'presidential system' or even going further to suggest that the referendum would be the first step towards a 6th Republic.

Politicians here are uncomfortable with what is called 'cohabitation,' which is the status when the country's president is head of one party and the Prime Minister leads another party - which happens to enjoy a majority of elected members.

I think this is what is meant by the phrase 'presidential system.' Many politicians in France think it very unnatural; even though it is perfectly constitutional.

Maybe what is wrong with it is that it functions, as it has been doing more or less harmoniously for the past several years.

In order to be the majority party, the Socialists have allied themselves with the Communists and 'Les Verts' - the Greens - with members of these parties holding cabinet positions, and active ones at that.photo: rpr poster

Meanwhile, the centre-right parties - including the President's RPR - are still in considerable disarray; which means they haven't been able to sustain the kind of compromises that the Socialists have obtained.

At the moment, in France, all right-wing parties are fragile. Alliances formed today fall apart tomorrow; and dissidents quit, to form their own ever-smaller parties.

Reducing the presidential term from five to seven years may help the right-wing parties to focus on their primary objective - to control both the presidency and the assembly - but the result of today's balloting is no guarantee of this.

Straw-Vote

Even if most voters did not bother casting ballots today, polls indicated a 79 percent approval rating for the reduction of the Presidential term. This was largely vindicated by the actual voting results.

Polls also predicted a low turn-out correctly, confirming my headline of last week - of a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, I want no credit for this.

On Saturday, before the vote, Le Parisien's page-two lead headline pronounced, 'Voters Have Chosen To Abstain.' After the vote, in an editorial Le Parisien blamed everybody but itself for the turnout fiasco.

Straw-Campaign

While a large number of prosecutors and judges are currently dealing with a morass of 'dirty' campaign funds' cases - one result of their efforts may have been reflected in the lack-lusterphoto: socialist poster political campaign for the referendum. 'Dirty' money may have disappeared.

By law, in France, political ads on TV are strictly controlled. For this referendum, their time-slot was in the five minutes preceding the commercials that precede the national TV-news each evening at 20:00.

I kept forgetting this and therefore managed to see no referendum advertising on TV at all. In any case, the ads ceased on Friday - to allow for the 48 hours before the balloting 'no-ads' rule.

But I am on the streets where the posters are. Each polling station has its own standardized set of poster panels, and these are set out near the polling stations - three weeks before an election.

France has a great many political parties, and each is supposed to get one panel-space. No billboards, no electric signs, no blimps flying overhead are allowed.

I think lowly party minions are charged with the posters' texts and graphics, because not one of them would ever be appointed Metropole's 'Poster of the Week.'

photo: madelin posterOn this page are six out of about ten posters I saw. I don't recall seeing any posters for the Communist party; and posters for far-left parties were almost all mutilated, as were a few of the far-right's posters.

'Les Verts' went a step beyond the referendum by suggesting the vote should be for a '6th Republic.' The hunters - no friends of 'Les Verts' - are against anything newer than the monarchy, and the recent rise in gas prices has its malcontents: "Tax on caviar, 5.5%: tax on gas, 235 %!"

Well yes, try seeing how well your car runs on a tankful of caviar, which probably costs more than 3000 francs a kilo.

'No Cars' Day' Flops In Paris

That I was largely unaware of 'no-cars' day on Friday in Paris does not mean that I am blind or that it was a total flop. Montmartre blocked its entries, more or less completely, and caused huge traffic jams all around itself.

Saturday's Le Parisien has a photo of the Rue de Rennes, showing a lone roller-skater in thephoto: chasseurs poster foreground, and a herd of buses at the next intersection. Apparently Paris semi-closed only four major streets.

In France, outside of Paris, 69 cities and towns took part in the Europe-wide 'no-cars' day, which involved 748 urban areas in all.

Halfway through the day, Marseille had to abandon its 'no-cars' day because its traffic jams increased to such proportions that it nearly strangled on them.

This may may have been partly on account of the deluge of monsoon-like rain and 200 kph gusts followed by massive flooding that turned Marseille into a sea of water and mud on Tuesday.

Web Life In France:

Flashy Kid's Stuff

Lots of graphics, lots of color; discoveries and some history, Clicksouris - meaning 'click-mouse' - features interactivity for kids and a chance to learn some French while having fun - and games. This Web site probably requires whatever is needed to see 'Flash' effects. If you haven't got it and your kids complain, you didn't read this here.

The Season of the Grape

If you are an active fan of the red, white and rosé juices, you can follow their seasonal progress from the vine to the part where the stout Italian ladies hold their skirts up high and stomp raisins into mush in giant vats.

Even if this pleasant idea is no more than a fiction, the Web site Wine Today watches over this throughout the northern hemisphere, but the link included here should give you the section focusing on France.

Present and Past Olympic Games

The Olympic Museum has the history in text, photos and video of the Olympics, plus all the latest developments - including, I suppose - ample presence of all the logos and stadium slogans that add so much to the visual aspects of the games.

In case you are wondering what the Olympics used to look like, the Olympic Television Archive Bureau has a Web site with old films, plus new films showing all the logos and stadium slogans in color.

The 'Official' Weather, One More Time

Météo France gets another run this week on account of delivering good weather last Thursday and Friday by surprise. This is the official source for France's TV-weather people. If you don't get French TV where you are, you can get the weather from where they get it. Because it is 'official' - meaning: as true as possible - don't expect forecasts to exceed 24 hours.

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