photo: au chai de l'abbaye, rue buci

Sunday was fine for voting, and whatever 'after' you wanted.

Socialists Blow Election

Paris:- Monday, 22. April 2002:- Until yesterday morning the media were telling voters the name of the probable winner in the first round of France's presidential election. With this as a comfortable certainty, Le Parisien treated its Saturday edition readers to a round-up of the campaign - with tidbits and highlights of the campaign, under the headline of:

A 'Drôle' of an Election

In order to make sure there really would be an 'Au Bistro' column this week, I decided to get an early start, by plowing through past issues of the paper.

Everybody was in a dither during the last week of the campaign for the election for Président of France. Surveys indicated voters intended to stay away from polling stations in droves.

With Easter holidays beginning or ending - they take place at 'Easter holiday time' rather than during Easter - other hundreds of thousands of voters planned to be in traffic jams instead of polling booths.

Meanwhile, all the polls showed the leading candidates - Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin - losingphoto: ponts des arts points, dropping below the 20 percent levels - while Jean-Marie Le Pen, an extreme right-winger, was climbing upwards.

Or - Sunday was good on the Pont des Arts too.

Being in New York, I missed the part where Le Pen was supposed to produce his 500 endorsements. This he did on Easter weekend - as if by magic - beating the filing deadline by a hair. Who were saying they are gong to vote for him anyway? Where have they been hiding?

At the opposite end of the scale, Arlette Laguiller, the five-time Trotskyist candidate, was scoring seven points - ahead of the Communist Party's leader, Robert Hue. Greens and other Trotskyists were nipping on his heels. All the Trotskyists and Greens added together could beat Le Pen though.

Adding the Communists, the Greens and the Socialists to the Trotskyists - then Jacques Chirac and everybody in the 'liberal' centre or on the right, wouldn't have a chance.

The total in the polls was over 100 percent - but, wait for it! - thirty percent said they had no intention of voting, 46 percent hadn't made a choice yet and 47 percent said they were unhappy with the campaign. People will tell the polls anything.

But the TV-news showed many candidates, which the polls only credited with only a couple of percentage points, holding big campaign meetings before enthusiastic crowds.

One way or another, it seemed as if Sunday would produce the expected candidates as leading vote-getters. Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin would fight it out head to head in the finals, on Sunday. 5. May.

'Le Choc' - 'Stupefication' - 'Non!'

Polling stations in smaller towns and villages closed at 18:00 and closed in France's bigger cities at 20:00. Four out of the six national TV channels began their first round of the presidential election coverage between 19:00 and 19:45. I tuned in to France-2 TV-news at 20:00.

The first estimates placed Jacques Chirac in the lead, followed by Jean-Marie Le Pen, with Lionelphoto: oysters Jospin in third place and effectively eliminated from the 2nd and final round of the presidential election, in two weeks.

Later results did not change the situation. Le Pen, credited with 17.08% of the vote by the Ministry of the Interior, led Lionel Jospin by a comfortable margin of 1.04 percentage points.

And, after voting - a dozen strength-giving oysters?

Le Pen was the first to get his victory speech broadcast from National Front party headquarters in the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud. He was surrounded by supporters gone ga-ga with joy and besieged by media lenses, who possibly outnumbered the party faithful.

Le Parisien's comment - "It's more than a simple earthquake." At age 73, it is Le Pen's fourth attempt to capture the presidency of France - and most likely his last.

The abstention rate yesterday was calculated as 28.4% of registered voters. Of the remainder who cast ballots, 82.2% voted against Jean-Marie Le Pen. France has been turned upsidedown.

Maybe it's a European thing. In German state elections yesterday, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat, got bombed too.

In France, with right-wing candidate Chirac facing extreme right-wing candidate Le Pen, the polls are giving Chirac an advantage of 77 percent to Le Pen's 23 percent. On Sunday, 5. May, abstentions are expected to be 26 percent.

The False Mono-Issue

The Président, Jacques Chirac, based his reelection campaign on the issue of 'security,' or to be more precise, the civil 'insecurity' that the French think is a menacing reality of their daily lives.

This somewhat minor theme outweighed the positive achievements of Lionel Jospin, who as prime minister for the past five years, has been managing the country.

With 'insecurity' as the sole issue, Jean-Marie Le Pen, considered to be 'authoritarian,' did not need to campaign and he didn't. If you were listening, therephoto: peniche resto, batobus was nothing to hear. Unlike in his past campaigns, he was careful to say nothing.

Amazingly, many Le Pen voters 'heard' - 'between the lines!' - in small towns with no delinquents and no immigrants, they voted 'for' anti-immigration and 'security.'

More on the Seine - more eating and drinking, or cruising.

With yesterday's outcome, the French have only a narrow choice - one that has nothing to do with resolving the question of what sort of future France wants to have, or whether it wants to have one.

Many of Le Pen's voters have and will continue to vote for the past.

Rally Around Chirac?

A good part of the Socialist's defeat yesterday is being attributed to the various other leftist parties of 'outsiders' who managed to gather over 20 percent of the votes cast.

Included with these are the good fifth-place score for Arlette Laguiller and her Trotskyist 'Lutte Ouvrière' party, and the miserably lousy score of 3.41 percent for Robert Hue and the formerly very powerful French Communist Party.

'Les Verts' Noël Mamère got respectably above the five percent hurdle, and in face of the events, Mamère said on TV that he would be voting for Chirac in the second round. He also called for massive demonstrations on Sunday, 1. May - 'worker's day' in Europe.

While some of the ultra-leftist parties are not overtly suggesting that their followers place their votes with Chirac in the second round, the priority is clearly to put a stop to Le Pen and his extremist National Front party.

On the moderate right's side, there seems to be little question of where the votes will go. The leader of the UDF party, François Bayrou, had a campaign that started from disaster, to finally arrive at a respectable score of nearly seven percent.

Throughout the campaign mention was often made of the 'third man.' At various times thisphoto: sign, bureau de vote 'alternative-candidate' was ex-socialist supporter, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, or the liberal-right Alain Madelin, but Bayrou finally outdistanced them, mainly by not quitting to campaign energetically.

Nearly all right-wing personalities who spoke on TV said there was a need for 'rassemblement.' Coincidently, this word - which means 'gathering' or 'assemblage' - forms part of the name of Chirac's party - the RPR, or 'Rassemblement Pour le République.'

For a good many years, this is exactly what the moderate right has not been doing - which opened the opportunity for a coalition of leftists and Socialists to form the government for the past five years.

For the moderate-right, in face of Le Pen, the coming choice is Chirac, or abstention. From both sides of right and left, there are going to be some curious elements 'rallying around Chirac.'

Jospin Decides To Resign

At 22:20, Lionel Jospin accepted personal responsibility for his defeat and announced his intention to retire from politics after the second round of the presidential elections.

This shocked those gathered at Socialist Party headquarters, who had earlier chanted 'No Pasaran!' when the first images of Le Pen appeared on giant TV screens.

At Communist Party headquarters there was no victory party and there were practically none there to celebrate it. Party leader Robert Hue even had the embarrassment of being out-voted by Jean-Marie Le Pen in his own polling district of Montigny-les-Cormeilles.

Nationally, the 3.41 percent of the votes gathered by the Communist leader were the lowest ever accorded to the party. For the first time since 1969, there will be no leftist candidate running for the office of Président of France.

Anti-Le Pen Demos

At midnight, in Paris and around France, anti-National Front demonstrations took place, with 10,000 gathering in Paris at République and Bastille, to chant, "'F' comme Fascist, 'N' comme Nazi." According to radio-news this afternoon and TV-news tonight, these are continuing throughout France.

Late last night on France-2 TV, the actor Pierre Arditti, speaking from the Bastille, said, "France doesn't deserve this. We begin the 'resistance.'." Photos from the anti-Le Pen demo at Bastille last night were labeled by the British trash-press today as 'riots.'

Paris Votes

Although the left led by Bertrand Delanoë captured Paris in the municipal elections last year, yesterday's vote saw Jacques Chirac outdistance Lionel Jospin as he did seven years ago, although both received fewer votes.

Le Pen, with about 9.35 percent of the total, was unchanged from the last presidential elections, and only got about half of his national average. Because of Easter school vacations, abstentions in the city were higher than the national average.

National Assembly Elections

Until yesterday it was assumed that the presidential election would be a contest between Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin. We now know this will not be the case.

With a coalition of convenience to prevent the election of Le Pen, Jacques Chirac is likely to bephoto: left bank quay, sunday reelected. This election will be followed by the election of deputies to the National Assembly, and the campaign for this started this morning.

During Mr. Chirac's last tenure as president - a seven-year term, now shortened to a five year term - his first government was formed by a rightist coalition but it imploded after two years, which required Mr. Chirac to ask Mr. Jospin to form a government.

Finally, Sunday was a day for just walking around.

This was done with a majority of Socialists, in a coalition with the Communist Party and the 'Greens.' It wasn't perfect, but it worked better than the rightist coalition that preceded it.

Having a president of one party and a prime minister of another is called 'co-habitation' in France, and it is considered to be an unnatural political situation.

But for the moment, all attention is fixed on assuring that Jacques Chirac is reelected Président of France on Sunday, 5. May 2002.

Then the left will get a chance for a bit of revenge. The question here is, who will the Socialists pick to be their leading candidate? As of tonight, the question remains unanswered.

Spring Weather Alerts

France, a pleasant and green place, does have weather that might be dangerous to your health - or on a lesser scale, cause you some serious discomfort if you happen to be in a remote place.

Weather warnings are provided by a service from our friends at France-Météo. You are supposed to use this service before you get into ugly situations because using it afterwards will not help you at all.

Paris is not an exciting weather area. The alert service is mainly for northern, central, mountainous, eastern, western Atlantic coast, all types of southern and offshore areas of France - that occasionally or regularly have more extreme weather than the Ile-de-France region.

If you are curious or want to know more about France's so-called spring weather, give the Météo-France Web site a hit, for its short-range forecasts. Check out the warning-prone 'Vigilance-Météo' area on the opening page.

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