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.


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