Times Are Changing

photo: bistro le raynouard

The bistro where the server-lady and I did not have a
lazy, boozy, Friday afternoon.

Mr. Nobody Discovered In Paris

Paris:- Sunday, 25. February 2001:- Things that don't happen naturally in France often get legislated into life. This happens so often - lately - that common folk are often caught short and left scrambling to conform to the new law of the land.

During the last municipal elections in France in 1995, 107,979 ladies were elected to municipal councils. With this number, they constituted just over 20 percent of those elected.

Since then it has become a national law that when candidate lists are made up in towns with populations above 3501, no more and no less than half of each party's candidates must be women.

Candidate lists are complicated affairs. In small towns of, say 3501 inhabitants, there will be 27 seats on the municipal council up for grabs.

If there are two political groups, each must create a list of 27 candidates - which means there must be 13 or 14 women on each one. Regardless of the size of the town or city, the number of seats is always an odd number.

But, taking the hypothetical small town into account, creating two opposing lists requires 54 candidates - or finding 27 women willing and able to seek office.

This is the simple version, and as always in France, there are exceptions - and these include Marseille, Lyon and Paris. Plus, Paris is a Department as well as a city, and since it is divided into 20 arrondissements,photo: wildcat election posters these are somewhat like sub-cities - but this is beside the point.

The basic problem at the moment is finding ladies willing to be candidates. Some of them are being grabbed off the street, willy-nilly.

Wildcat political poster location changes its posters almost nightly.

Back to the list of candidates. If one party's 'list' gets more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round of voting, then that party wins outright - it has a majority.

But this seldom happens because there are usually more - many more - than two parties. When no 'list' gets a majority in the first round, it goes on to the second round and lists with less than five percent of the votes are eliminated.

The remaining 'lists' jockey around with shifting alliances, to try and put together a common list that can get - enough - of a majority in the second round of voting - enough to get some of its higher-placed candidates elected.

Now, the old polls - mostly men - might like to put the ladies in the bottom positions on the candidate lists, so that they get bumped off when the second round takes place - but the new law also stipulates that the ladies must occupy the list in groups of no less than six - as in, six men, six ladies, and so on to the end of the list.

Some parties are going this one better, and setting up their lists to alternate one to one, so a lady is either number one or two on the list - thus having a high chance of getting elected even if the party ends up in the opposition.

As far as the number of women elected to political office is concerned, France is at the end of the line in Europe. With these elections, the change should begin - to reach the goal of parity.

The remaining exception is that the presentation of a list that is not balanced results only in a fine - which some macho types consider to be no more serious than a parking ticket.

One party in a town in Essonne cannot convince enough women to be on its list. This will result in the present mayor and his list running unopposed for re-election.

Now, before the coming elections, there are only three women mayors of cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants. In all, there are 2970 lady mayors, mostly of towns of less than 3500 inhabitants.

This figure represents only eight percent of France's 36,000 mayors.

A Quiet Campaign

Unlike national or European elections, municipal ones get no air time - no radio and no TV. Near each polling station, municipal billboard panels are set up in a public place, with one panel reserved for each party with a list of candidates.

Parties, if they have deep pockets, can rent commercial billboards but this is not very common. In Paris, even large, wide-angle commercial billboards are relatively rare.

The municipal billboards have been in place since Friday I think, yet a small tour on Saturday found several sets of them to be totally blank.

Meanwhile, posters are being plastered around, in illegalphoto: blank election billboards places. Since these are illegal anyway, posters get plastered on top of other posters, and then another midnight crew comes along and defaces them all anyway.

The official poster panels - one for each 'list.' Earlier today, no takers.

Many candidates do the door-to-door in person, stroll around neighborhoods, tour marchés and kiss babies. They also hold public meetings for their fans, but if you are not connected to this scheme of things, you can easily never learn of these.

Even the so-called 'Battle For Paris' runs on this level of public excitement. A couple of weeks ago I went over to a local candidate's store-front, expecting a hive of activity, and found it closed and locked up until 17:30.

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