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Change for the Better

photo: socialist candidate huchon, ile de france

Jean–Paul Huchon – winner in the Ile de France.

Paris Journal – No 45

by Laurel Avery

Paris:– Friday, 2. April 2004:– Plato once said, "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." The French are generally more involved in politics than their American counterparts, and they certainly relish political discussion.

In America, politics is joined by sex and religion as one of the three things one should never talk about at a dinner party. The French almost speak of nothing other than the first two.

In France political advertising on television and radio is prohibited. Hallelujah! In addition, the Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel, the CSA, which regulates the broadcast media makes sure that every candidate receives equal time. For instance, if one candidate appears as a guest on a news program the other candidates must receive equal time on other programs.

A few weeks before an election every voter receives a mail packet which contains each candidate's statement and manifesto,photo: fn candidate, marine le pen so they can make an informed decision. What a welcome thing that would be in America, where the electorate is bombarded for months on end with nothing more than schoolyard namecalling.

Marine Le Pen did not win in the Ile de France.

Imagine an election where the main focus is on the actual issues facing the country and not about whether Candidate A spent the weekend with someone other than his wife. Or that Candidate B took a toke of an illegal substance when he was 16 years old. Who cares? What do either of those things have to do with running a country?

In France, the men who become president have been trained for the job from the time they are teenagers. While it's a nice idea that anyone in America can become president, it's not really true. You have to be a rich white man. In France you have to be a well–educated white man.

Every French candidate's campaign accounts must balance and be publicly reported and must include all expenditures on political communications. There is also a spending limit during the year before the ballot date of $16 million, and for those two candidates who make it to the second round, $21 million.

All donations by businesses to political parties are illegal. The state reimburses a portion of each candidate's political expenditures, depending on how well he did in the final balloting. Each candidate receives a base amount of $180,000 plus eight percent of the spending limit. For candidates who won more than five percent of the votes in the first ballot, they are reimbursed 36 percent of the spending limit.

So that the outcome of the election is not influenced by public opinion polls, no results are allowed to be published in the week before the balloting. Finally, all official campaigning stops at the end of the Friday before the Sunday vote day.

One of the most unusual things about both the U.S. and France is that under more liberal governments, which are supposedly the ones who are eager to spend taxpayer money, each country's budget deficits were lower than they became under the conservative governments that preceded or followed them.

France's deficit was 61.8€ billion in 2003, as opposed to 34.4€ billion in 2001, just before the 2002 elections sent the Socialist–Communist–Greens government packing.photo: ump candidate cops, udf santini In America, they went from a $237 billion surplus at the end of the last Democratic administration to a current $521 billion deficit under the succeeding Republicans.

The UMP's Copé and the UDF's Santini did not win the Ile de France for the right.

The French multi–party system with its two rounds of elections seems to work well. It does occasionally backfire, as it did in 2002 when far–right candidate Jean–Marie Le Pen narrowly edged out the Socialist leader, Lionel Jospin, as a candidate for president. For the second and final round of voting, the only choices were Jean–Marie Le Pen or Jacques Chirac. Chirac's landslide victory had not so much to do with the electorate being pro–Chirac as being anti–Le Pen.

In general, the first of the two rounds of voting allows people to vote for who they truly would like to see elected without worrying that they are casting a useless ballot. In round two they can then cast their ballot for the candidate most likely to win who is closest to their ideology.

Nearly two–thirds of the French voted during the recent regional elections. Not a stunning turnout, but far better than the pathetic 50 percent that may actually vote in American presidential elections. How can a country have a representative government when that government is only representing about 25 percent of the electorate?

My mother always used to take me into the voting booth with her when I was a small child, and she impressed upon me that voting was something important for every adult to do. Voting was part of what it was to be living in a democracy. People fought revolutions for the ability to do so, both in France and in the U.S. The fact that almost half of Americans and a third of the French treat those hard–won battles so lightly is shameful.

Alice walker wrote, "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."

Despite the inconvenience, one of the great things about France is that when the people don't like something their government is doing they don't wait for an election to roll around, but to take to the streets to protest in public. They still believe that they have the power to affect what their government does, and that's important. Having recently come from America where there are so many people who feel there is nothing they can do, I want you to know that it can be different.

If your elected representative is not representing your views, get out there and vote against him or her. It doesn't matter if your candidate's policies do not perfectly represent you. If politiciansphoto: lcr, lo, barrons la route au fn get the message that they will be tossed out on their 'derrière' if they don't listen to their constituents, you can bet they will start listening soon.

Look at what happened in regional elections in France last week. The right–wing government was making decisions and so–called 'reforms' that voters were not happy with, so they gave the opposition a landslide victory. It also happened in Spain last month.

Ultra–leftist LCR and LO voters helped stop the FN in the Ile de France.

And as was proven in the U.S. election of 2000, just a few votes do make a difference. So if you don't like what your government is doing – or if you do – take just a little time out of your day to get to a polling station and vote.

It's the most powerful thing you can do. You have the ability to change things for the better.

Text Laurel Avery © 2004

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