Saturday, March 31, 2007

Cécilia, Sarkozy's Hillary?

Cecilia Sarkozy is most known for leaving her husband Nicolas in 2005 for another man in New York, and then returning a year later. But while keeping a low-profile since, Cecilia has been one of the most influential people behind the Sarkozy campaign, and as a communications expert, the proponent of his "softer image" approach.

She went to work as an unofficial adviser, organising events with young voters and adding her voice to those who were telling Sarkozy that he must soften his image if he was to compete with Ségolãne Royal, the Socialist candidate and first woman with a real chance of becoming president, for the female vote.

The result was a speech in which Sarkozy proclaimed, “I have changed”, and spoke about women’s issues such as combating female circumcision and creating more crèches.

Cécilia went on to secure the appointment of François de la Brosse, the husband of one of her friends, as a senior adviser to Sarkozy. He runs websites promoting the candidate to a youth audience, including one called Nicolas Sarkozy Television that shows video clips of the man in action.

Bayrou loses critical supporter

UDF candidate Francois Bayrou faced another harsh blow today when fellow party member and Education Minister Gilles de Robien, who himself was once Bayrou's campaign director, declared that he will support UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy.

"For two years now I have been tirelessly asking him the same questions: Is he on the left or on the right? With whom will he govern if he is elected? I have never obtained an answer other than 'We will see when the time comes'....

I am of a faithful nature but things have gone too far."

This seems to confirm some of the biggest doubts surrounding the Bayoru camp, that he is only a credible alternative in that he is neither Royal nor Sarkozy, and that if elected he would have great difficulty in governing. He still has several weeks to go, but the Bayrou wave looks like it has already crashed onto the shore.

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Royal poster released

Segolene Royal's official campaign poster is out, and a bit frightening, at least in comparison with earlier ones.

Here are some comments from Le Monde readers:

*J'espère que la photo est moins saturée en réalité parce que là, ca fait un peu gothique...

*C'est très clairement une affiche qui fait peur; je ne sais pourquoi (l'association noir-blanc-rouge?) j'ai spontanément pensé à des slogans de sinistre mémoire ; je ne pense donc pas que ce soit une affiche réussie, elle est froide, mais cela correspond sans doute inconsciemment au personnage (morgue hautaine et mépris, selon ses collaborateurs). Derrière des dehors soigneusement travaillés de compassion, elle me fait peur, très franchement.

*Très belle affiche : pas de faux sourire ouistiti, une grande sobriété, une profonde sérénité, une expression convaincue, un évident refus de miser sur la séduction naturelle de la candidate, un slogan en phase avec la finalité, le sens et la portée de la fonction présidentielle. L'ensemble peut légitimement paraître un peu froid à ceux qui estiment que la politique est un spectacle de cirque et que les politiciens ne se divisent qu'en clowns et en dresseurs. Les autres ne peuvent qu'applaudir.

And one comment from a reader calling himself "Le Prince": "C'est la reine."

Friday, March 30, 2007

Royal introduces "First Chance" contract

Segolene Royal has once again attempted to turn the tables against challenger Nicolas Sarkozy with a new plan to get young people employed. According to her, this is a solution to the problem of 190,000 young students graduating every year without qualifications, and an unfulfilled demand for 500,000 tradesmen and craftsmen.

Her new proposal, "le contrat première chance", would allow small businesses to hire one new worker for a full year, while the government would pay all social charges and wages. After the year, it would then be up to the companies to decide if they want to hire the young worker "on a stable and durable contract". Wages would be based on the French equivalent of minimum wage, although they would ultimately "be fixed according to the personal situation".

Royal's speech to introduce the proposal more than faintly resembled some of Sarkozy's own exhortions, praising the value of hardwork and independent initiative. As always, she included her own life story and harsh upbringing as an inspiring springboard.

"I, who had heard all my childhood and all my adolescence 'you will not make studies supérieures, you are intended to remain in the kitchen', I forced this destiny.

I was pushed by the school of the Republic, by the teachers who said to me 'one needs to continuer', I could profit from a scholarship to continue my higher studies, I had access to the formation and I said to myself one day 'why not give it a go'. Such is the message that I want to transmit to you.

I want that each one among you, each girl, each young man in France that we love, can say to himself 'why shoudn't I also not try to force my destiny? Force your life! Seize your freedom!"

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Riots may help Sarkozy

Since the riot several days ago at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris, UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has taken much of the heat for his alleged failures as Interior Minister, a post he resigned just before the riot.

Yet a new poll from Le Figaro suggests that he might actually gain political support because of them. According to the survey, taken March 28-29, 39% of the French believe that there will be less violence than the type that just occured if Sarkozy is elected president. He is followed by Jean-Marie Le Pen with 38%, Francois Bayrou with 19%, and Segolene Royal will 17%.

Ironically again, the issue of national identity, which generated immediate and widespread criticism after introduced by Sarkozy, may also work in his favor. 30% of the French believe Sarkozy is most credible on the matter, far ahead of 19% Le Pen, 15% Royal, and 8% Bayrou.

Nevertheless, Segolene Royal is also appearing strong in another issue centered poll by BVA. On the topic of unemployment, 44% think Royal would do the best job of reducing it, followed by 42% Sarkozy. The French also believe Royal will follow a just social policy, 57% against Sarkozy's 33%.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bayoru's margin of victory declines

UDF candidate Francois Bayrou has officially been stopped in his tracks, and is now back below 20% in many first round polls. Of course with weeks to go, and the experience of 2002, that may mean little at this point in time.

However, one other important number has been rapidly declining, which may affect Bayrou even more than his receding 1st round poll numbers. Much of Bayrou's attraction has come from the fact that all polls showed that he would beat Nicolas Sarkozy by a wide margin in a runoff, much more than Segolene Royal could ever hope to achieve. Yet a 10 point lead (55% - 45%) on just last Tuesday has narrowed to a mere 3% difference (51.5% - 48.5%) today.

This is good news to both major candidates. Firstly, if it does not appear that Bayrou has a much better chance of beating Sarkozy than Royal, some of the purely anti-Sarkozy will go back to Royal, and the political need for his candidacy will disappear. Sarkozy can also rest soundly, knowing that if by chance Bayrou squeaked by into the runoff, it will by no means be the rout that many expected.

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Sarkozy leans protectionist

UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy may be the most economically-reform-minded politician running for president, but yesterday night he tempered such talk of liberalization with a dose of old fashioned protectionism.

Blaming the euro for low wages, promising to reintroduce "community preference" in the European Union and to combat "social, monetary and ecological dumping", Mr Sarkozy launched an attack on "free trade", which he called a "policy of naivety".

"Look at the waste of Arcelor, which we sold off on the cheap because we believed that the steel industry was history. They got it wrong. They lied," said Mr Sarkozy to a cheering crowd at Lille's Palais des Congrès. "If I am president, then France will have a real industrial policy."

You cannot fault him for political adroitness; being the candidate of painful reform while appearing on the side of the workers. It must be working somewhat, simply considering his place in the polls.

Sarkozy's campaign also un/intentionally leaked his upcoming manifesto, which includes a recognition of last year's "No" vote against the EU constitution.

In his manifesto, leaked this week by La Tribune, Mr Sarkozy said: "Europe must not be the Trojan horse of globalisation reduced to circulation of capital and goods, but must on the contrary protect people within globalisation."

He added: "This is what we were told by those who voted No in the referendum on the (European) constitution. It is a political fact.

"I want to say that I have heard them."

One cannot help but think of his last quote in the context of something quite different, and someone with whom Sarkozy would not wish to be compared.

I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

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French Rappers get political

This year's election has been marked by high rates of voter registration, especially in the poorer and more minority-dominated suburbs. Because of this new political momentum, French rappers, many themselves immigrants, have used their positions to get involved and encourage the youth to take part in the political process. Here is just one example:

Rost, 30, a black rapper born in Togo, who is not even French, published a “Guide for Voters” this week, intended to explain the basics of France, citizenship and the right to vote to housing project dwellers, most of whom are of immigrant origin like himself.

Rost’s “Guide for Voters” provides interviews with candidates who agreed to talk to him, including Socialist Segolene Royal, currently ranked second in polls, Francois Bayrou, ranked third, and even Le Pen. Among those missing is Sarkozy, who, Rost said, rejected the interview format with video and photos.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Riot sets off political firestorm

The spontaneous protest that broke out at the bust Gare du Nord train station in Paris last night has ignited fierce debate among the presidential candidates, from Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of the 2005 riots to immigration and security. It also led to a direct war of words between Sarkozy and his Socialist challenger, Segolene Royal.

Royal began during a TV interview today:

"In five years with a rightist government that has made security its main campaign issue, you can see that it's failure all down the line....That a simple check can degenerate into a violent confrontation proves that something does not work anymore."

Sarkozy did not show any flexibility, but also sidestepped Royal's charge that it was indirectly his fault:

"If Mrs. Royal wants to regularize all illegals and if the left wants to be the side of those which do not pay their tickets in the train, it is their choice. It is not mine. I want to tell the French that I will not be on the side of fraudsters, cheats, dishonest people ... those who think that in order to get heard, they must demolish a train station and break public equipment paid for by taxpayers."

Royal got some auxiliary support from Communist Marie-George Buffet, who said that the incident was "a new illustration of the failure of Nicolas Sarkozy." However, Sarkozy's tough line was echoed by Jean-Marie Le Pen and Philippe de Villiers, who denounced immigration and "ethnic bands/barbarians" respectively.

Nicolas Hulot re-enters debate

Eco-star Nicolas Hulot caused a stir several months again when he threatened to run for president if the main candidates did not sign his "ecological pact". Once they had all done so, Hulot declared that he would not run, which allowed the candidates, for the most part, to sidestep focusing on the environment.

Today Hulot is back on the airwaves, saying that he will remain neutral through the course of the campaign, but also scolding the candidates who promised to put the environment on the front burner.

"It is a pity on such a fundamental subject of always having to be in the pressure whereas the reason should be enough. I deplore it and I am badly at ease, but the time of the campaign I am obliged to use these processes...

They must bring fast precise details on the perimeter of responsibilities for this holder. I note that some did not work there...the devil is in the details: with an empty shell, the remedy is likely to be worse than the evil."

Riot rocks Paris station and campaign

Yesterday a spontaneous riot began at the busy Gare du Nord trainstation in Paris, after a man jumped a ticket barrier and was arrested. By the end of the day, nine were arrested, two injured, and police used tear gas against over 100 protesters.

But being an election year, the riot inevitable became a political factor the moment it started. Bringing back memories of the recent 2005 urban riots, which severed support of Nicolas Sarkozy in the poorer suburbs, the Socialists, rightly or wrongly, were quick to pounce.

"Yesterday night, the fights turned into a demonstration against Sarkozy,'' Julian Dray, the spokesman for the Socialist Party, said in an interview. "This shows the gap between him and the youth of this country."

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Disillusion in heart of France

Although today's candidates offer the first breath of fresh air in a while, much of France is mired in a continued state of uncertainty. According to the International Herald Tribune, this sentiment is manifested most clearly in the 38,000 strong town ofAuxerre, which has voted for the winner of each presidential election since 1981, and was chosen by the CSA polling group as "the average town" of France just last week.

It is not that voters here do not care. On the contrary, they - like those elsewhere in France - say they are following every tortuous twist. Abstention is not in their nature.

Part of their confusion is that the two leading candidates, Sarkozy and Royal, are seen as polarizing figures who do not inspire confidence. Their messages come across here as glossy packaging done in Paris ateliers rather than workable political platforms for changing life in mainstream France. Even Bayrou, a parliamentary leader, a farmer and horse breeder, campaigning as an outsider, is regarded with some suspicion.

"Sarko, Ségo - they're both the same," said Sébastien Gomard, a 32-year-old café worker. "All the politicians smile and make promises and then they disappoint. Even Bayrou is becoming a publicity showman like them. He says he loves to ride his tractor and expects farmers to vote for him because of that. Well, Sarkozy loves to ride a bicycle and so do I, but that doesn't make me want to vote for him."

Polls continue to show that the French are are acutely concerned about employment, purchasing power, and other micro-domestic worries, and are ready for change. But polls also show that their value system, fundamentally at odds with Sarkozy's vision of pride-in-work, is still holding back economic and political reform.

"Bayrou and Sarko - don't talk to me about them," said Jean-Pierre Bertin, a Yoplait worker. "Sarko, it's dictatorship. Bayrou, a weather vane."

As for Royal, he said, "If she's elected, we're still going to be the cash cows of the system."

Then Bertin acknowledged that perhaps not just the politicians were lacking.

"France is always complaining," he said. "We always complain. But we never take action."

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What's wrong with polls?

It is no secret that French presidential campaigns are heavily regulated affairs: no political TV commercials are allowed, and networks must give each first round candiate the same amount of "air" time.

But even this was topped today by Matthias Guyomar, general secretary, and Jean-Michel Galabert, president, of the Commission of Polls ("La Commission des sondages"), who announced their concern with the plethora of political polls and their pervasiveness in the media.

"There is a very clear increase in the surveys published which is coupled with a dominating place of polls in the (election) debate. That all the more reinforces the need, in the eyes of the Commission, to emit calls with prudence.

The polls are not that an instrument of analysis of the political life and not a tool of forecast of the electoral results."

What? Isn't a poll intrinsically an "instrument of analysis" to judge the current political mood of the nation? Aren't they taken to "forecast...electoral results"?

To give them credit, 2002 polls did not entirely predict Jean-Marie Le Pen's major upset in the first round, beating out Socialist Lionel Jospin, so caution is always needed. The US learned that only too well on the night of the 2000 election, when exit polls showed both Gore and Bush winning Florida at different times during the night. But accurate political polls, developed only within the past century, have become a crucial and integral part of the political debate. Ignoring them would only be ignoring reality.

Socialist economist supports Sarkozy

If there is any Judas in this election campaign, it is Eric Besson. Economic advisor to the Socialist party, he resigned in disgust soon after Segolene Royal announced her presidential pact, and quickly wrote a scathing book entitled "Who Knows Mme Royal."

Yet he has managed to go one step farther. During an interview with Le Figaro, he said that "Sarkozy is more qualified than Royal to chair France."

I explain in my book to have since ten years of good personal relations with Nicolas Sarkozy and to appreciate his taste for the action. That did not prevent it from not sparing me in the Hemicycle when he was a Minister for Finance, and I do not think that the PS can reproach me for having it, in return, spared much in my partisanes activities... Now that I am free of any fastener, and engaging only me, I think I may say he raised any ambiguity on points in my crucial eyes (the American intervention to Iraq, the communautarism, etc), and that the republican which I am appreciated his speech of nomination of January 14. He, in my eyes, prepared and is thus qualified more indeed than Ségolène Royal to chair France. As for joining him, he knows and I publicly said what it is: I decided to turn over now towards the world of business.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Royal adorned in royal colors

Royal campiagn advisors apparently think that the only way to beat Sarkozy and his national identity toting campaign will be to show off their own patriotism:

Yesterday (Monday), she set out what she called her "reconquest of the symbols of the nation" saying the anthem and the French flag should not be the preserve of the right. Earlier she had cited Joan of Arc as an inspiration, reclaiming the historical figure revered by Mr Le Pen. She said every French family should have a tricolour and fly it on Bastille day. Her partner, the Socialist leader François Hollande, said he had a flag in his kitchen, courtesy of the last football World Cup.

Segolene Royal is a fine woman and politician, but this is honestly going too far.

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." — Samuel Johnson

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A clear and absent danger?

On the day when Nicolas Sarkozy steps down as Interior Minister in order to pursue his election campaign full time, he is likely much less worried than several weeks ago, when UDF candidate Francois Bayrou appeared ready to defeat Segolene Royal in the first round, and then demolish him in the second.

Yet while still present, the threat of Bayrou has noticeably receded. In fact, Sarkozy is likely now turning his sights once again on his socialist challenger, as a new LH2 poll shows them equal in the first round, and seperated by a mere 2% point margin in the second. Although Bayrou is much higher than his original 8% last fall, he is only hovering around 20%, more than the margin of error away from Royal. And if in mid-April he has still not caught Royal, it is probable that his support will further dwindle.

That being said, there is still a month to go in this campaign. Segolene Royal has shown her first signs of steady advancement against Sarkozy, unlike several times before when she would quickly bounce up and then fall down again. If this sustains it will be much harder for Bayrou to gain traction, but being the center candidate, he could also gain votes from Sarkozy if he were to stumble. He is certainly not down and out, but Bayrou will have to learn that it's the turtle, not the rabbit, who wins elections.

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Royal says yes to Turkey

Socialist candidate Segolene Royal has clarified her position on Turkish membership in the EU in her new book, saying that:

"I'm favorable to it in principle but not now because Europe is broken down, and before enlarging it, it has to be re-launched. The reasons why I am not favorable for the moment are not due to Turkey, but Europe: It needs a pause and a time of stabilization of its borders. Because today, the majority of its inhabitants no longer know where it starts and where it ends, what purpose it serves and where it's heading."

Royal also said, as before, that she would allow French voters to decide the issue. If anything Royal has at least made herself unique among the major candidates, who are for the most part lukewarm if not hostile to the idea of Turksih membership. It also gives Anglo-observers, many of whom support Nicolas Sarkozy but are strongly against his hostility to Turkish entry into the EU, one more doubt to consider.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Segolene bares all in book

Over the past few days there have been several stories on Socialist candidate Segolene Royal's new book entitled Maintenant, or Now, which will be released this coming Tuesday.

According to the AP, Royal attempts to clarify several key things, notably her relationship with Socialist party cheif Francois Hollande (they have 4 children) and her committment to the Socialist party ideals in general, as well as unleash harsh criticism against her main challengers, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Bayrou.

Sarkozy's "desire to control everything" is "worrisome" for France, she is quoted as saying. Criticism of policies Sarkozy introduced during his tenure as interior minister and critiques of his campaign promises pepper the 331-page-long book.

Royal also lashes out at center-right politician Francois Bayrou, saying his ambition to overcome the right-left split that has long dominated French politics is "an illusion."

"Attempting to blur the borders, that's making fun" of the French people, she said

If you are curious, the book is now available for a measely 5% off on Amazon.

Although she may gain some good short-term press coverage over the book, she has a hard act to follow. Nicolas Sarkozy's book Témoignage was a best-seller in France this past summer, and has garnered decent reviews for its newly released English translation.

Back and kicking

Hello everyone, sorry I had to be away for the past few days, I trust you found news from a less satisfying source.

Not too much has happened over the past few days, with Nicolas Sarkozy out in the French Antilles. On Monday Sarkozy will officially quit as Interior Minister, and his place will be filled by current overseas minister Francois Baroin. Sarkozy continues to led all polls in the first round, and the second round against Royal.

If anything, the past few days have been marked by the incredible stalling of the campaign of Francois Bayrou. Coming out of nowhere earlier this month to tie Segolene Royal, he has now fallen to 19% in the first round. Even worse is the firmness of his support. Roughly 75% of voters for Royal and Sarkozy say that they will not change their minds, although only 42% of Bayrou's voters say the same.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Be Back Soon!

The humble writer of this blog will be out of the country until next Monday, and he is unsure if he will have the opportunity to post during this time. Unfortunately, my request that all candidates stop making news until my return has been politely rejected, but I will certainly return to any missed news if need be. Be sure to check back soon, and no, I am not going to France.

As far as today's news, Nicolas Sarkozy is flying to the French Antilles until Monday, and Segolene Royal is holding a video-chat on her website at 3pm French time.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sarkozy out of runoff?

While today's headlines are dominated by President Jacques Chirac's publicly announced support of Nicolas Sarkozy, the news-site Paris Link has published a startlingly bold prediction: Sarkozy will not make it through the first round of voting.

At first this seems laughable, considering Sarkozy has led all the polls for the last several months, yet the article does a fair job of reasoning out such a conclusion, taking into account the political motivation of French youth, the rise of Francois Bayrou, the underestimated support of Le Pen, the general uncertainty in the minds of voters, and Sarkozy's own personality and views.

The picture of an ambitious, anglophile liberal going jogging in Central Park before meeting the American President for a photo opportunity is not one that sits well with the French electorate: when selecting a President, they select someone who represents France; despite being one of the least successful Presidents in history, Jacques Chirac at least fulfilled this criterion - he was the very embodiment of the French patrie.

I have said before that in many ways Sarkozy is an incredibly vulnerable candidate, whose views are not closely aligned with the majority of the French electorate. Nevertheless, the almost inability of Royal or Bayrou to effectively exploit these weaknesses over the past months does not lead me to believe that he will fall any time soon.

Chirac supports Sarkozy

Just minutes ago French President Jacques Chirac announced that he will support Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency, saying that as he is his party's candidate, "it is totally natural that I give him my vote and my support." He also said that Sarkozy will leave his post as Interior Minister on March 26, or next Monday.

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Bayrou wants Olympic boycott

UDF candidate Francois Bayrou, who has seen his soaring fortunes recede somewhat in the past few days, suggested last night that France should boycott the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, so long as China does not pressure Sudan to stop the Darfur crisis.

"There is nothing easier than stopping this tragedy, this genocide. If this drama does not stop, France would do itself credit by not coming to the Olympic Games."

To provide some context, he made these remarks at a rally about Darfur, in which President Jacques Chirac and Socialist candidate Segolene Royal also spoke. I am sure Bayrou's heart is in the right place, but one wonders if his decision would gain general support by the little fact that the 2012 games will not be in Paris.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sarkozy condemns Royal's 6th Republic

Using unusually harsh rhetoric, UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy strongly attacked Segolene Royal's recently announced proposal for constitutional change and the creation of a "Sixth Republic", as well as her previously idea of "citizen juries" to judge elected officials.

"I do not want to install popular jurys which would resemble Soviets. (...)

It is the end of politics which takes responsability. It is necessary to have courage to call the things by their name, their participative democracy is not the remedy against the dictatorship of single thought, it is the end of the representative democracy in the generalized suspicion.

Their participative democracy is not a new manner of associating the people with the decisions that concern them, it is the ultimate form of the demagogy."

Sarkozy did not spare Francois Bayrou either, whom he sarcastically attacked for what Americans would call a "flip-flop."

The main thing is to aim well. If you believe the right, go to the left. If you believe the left, go to the right."

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Hope for Royal, vote for Sarkozy

Although polls are excellent as guages of current public opinion, they can also lead to puzzling paradoxes. A recent poll taken last week says that 36% of voters wish that Segolene Royal is victorious, compared to 33% for Francois Bayrou and 29% for Nicolas Sarkozy.

Of course, polls of voters intentions show quite the opposite. Ipsos' daily poll shows that Sarkozy is still several points ahead of Royal in the first round, who in turn is several points above Bayrou. Royal is also still losing to Sarkozy 48% to 52% in the runoff.

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Hulot complains, Sarkozy sings

Today Nicolas Hulot, the French eco-celebrity who threatened to enter the presidential race himself several months ago, has complained that the environment is not being given the political priority that it deserves.

"Nicolas Sarkozy defined six priorities to implement quickly if he were elected. None of them refers to the ecological stakes. Of the 100 points of the presidential pact of Royal Ségolène, only one approaches this topic, in a diluted and transverse way. As for Francois Bayrou, it fixed four priority building sites as of this summer. And, there still, the environment is absent."

In other news, it appears that Nicolas Sarkozy surprised some by using the words of Martin Luther King in a speech this past Sunday. Referring to King's landmark "I have a dream" speech, Sarkozy attempted to move toward the center on issues of race and diversity.

"That speech deeply moved the world and that great dream of brotherhood and justice he spoke of changed America.

If the dream could change America, why might it not change France? We will manage it if French youth, like American youth, make Martin Luther King’s (dream) their own. As president I want to unite all French people and I will honour all those who have made France great, regardless of the colour of their skin, their politics or social origins."

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Will they debate?

The French normally wait for a candidate-against-candidate debate until after the first round of voting, when there are only two candidates left. This has not stopped some, including the candidates themselves, from hoping to debate before the first round on April 22.

Today UDF candidate Francois Bayrou endorsed the idea on France 2, saying "I am favorable, organize it! Invite us, I will come." This also got some lukewarm support from Socialist Segolene Royal, who told the press earlier that she was "not hostile" to the idea.

UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy setiments on the issue are not known, but this has not stopped him from discounting the idea because of strict French election laws that require equality in the time allotted to each candidate's time to speak.

"It is nevertheless a funny idea to ask for the organization of a debate one moment when one cannot any more organize them since there are 12 candidates. How will one do it will all of the the strict equality?"

I may be wrong, but there seems to be a point when artificially enforced égalité gets in the way of a little thing called liberté.

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Segolene's Sixth Republic

Socialist candidate Segolene Royal tried to gain new electoral momentum today by proposing an autumn referendum of a "Sixth Republic". This constitutional change would replace the "Fifth Republic", which was formed in 1958 during the Algerian crisis, and very much a creation of Charles de Gaulle.

What would this actually entail? According to Royal, her changes would create "a new balance of power to modernize France, to render more efficient political decion." Specifically, it would give the parliament greater sway in terms of "social matters, environment, foreign politics, and defense." It would also limit elected officials to one post at a time, and give French expats the right to vote in local elections from abroad.

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Town Hall meetings meet election campaign

The Christian Science Monitor has a quite lengthy article on the use of "town hall" style formats in this presidential race. Although this is a staple of American campaigns, this is a somewhat of an abberation from previous French elections.

Past presidential campaigns in France have featured more conventional television appearances by candidates who were questioned by journalists and editorial writers. The big event has always been the traditional live debate between the two candidates who won the most votes in the first round and faced each other in the runoff election.

Those events were considered models of gravity and eloquent language, so much so that a popular new theater production in Paris features two actors reenacting the 1974 and 1981 debates of two former French presidents, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and François Mitterrand.

Some have criticized the meetings for allowing questioners to let candidates off the hook, but as the Monitor reports, this has not stopped some interesting events from occuring.

Last month, Interior Minister Sarkozy, the candidate of the main right-wing political party, confronted Hakim Khenfer. The 25-year-old carpenter from a suburb of Tours recounted how he had been handcuffed, forced to his knees, and treated as a "dirty foreigner" by police officers checking his identity papers. Sarkozy responded by promising the audience a complete investigation – and, to Mr. Khenfer's subsequent embarrassment, he acted with unprecedented speed.

Two days after his television appearance, Khenfer was summoned by the inspector general of the police to tell his story. Unfortunately, he couldn't remember the exact date of the incident, a lapse that was fully reported in the French papers.

"I never asked to have my own case resolved," Khenfer said. "I'm just fighting in the name of everyone who is a victim of racial profiling."

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sarkozy or Stalin

Is Nicolas Sarkozy running a Soviet style campaign? That may seem like an odd assertion considering the circumstances, but the Telegraph says otherwise.

Much critism is generated over Sarkozy's use of a converted Parisian theater as his campaign headquarters. Chosen to give him a softer image, the theater includes a huge portrait of Sarkozy along a main staircase, resembling something from the streets of Baghdad before the war. But to neighbors, this is the least of their worries.

"We used to be packed with a relaxed, multi-national crowd, but now everybody is scared to come here. There are just too many aggressive-looking policemen everywhere. It is just like something out of the Soviet Union.

You see Sarkozy coming out of the Politburo every day and he is usually surrounded by about 10 guards. They scream off in convoys of armoured cars, and cause all kinds of traffic jams. Sarkozy is acting just like the old Russian leaders like -Stalin used to."

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Segolene, comeback kid?

As mentioned several days ago, although Socialist candidate Segolene Royal has been sinking in the polls with the rise UDF candidate Francois Bayrou, uncertainty in the minds of voters as a whole and more imporantly for Bayrou still showed that she was not down and out.

Over the past few days, new signs of a potential and by no means definite comeback have appeared. A recent Ifop poll put Royal at one point higher (24%) and Bayrou actually down .5% at 22.5%. The daily Ipsos poll has also displayed a minor change, with Royal gaining a point to 24% and Bayrou losing a full point down to 22%. The certainty of vote has also shifted. 65% of Royal's voters are now sure of their decision, compared to a falling 43% for Bayrou. Sarkozy has also fallen in recent days, but is still much higher at 71%.

Like her mini-comeback after the primetime "J'ai une question a vous poser" appearance, this may be short-lived. What it does reveal is that the Bayrou wave, which resulted in soaring poll numbers over the course of only several days, is losing momentum, and by no means inevitable.

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Bayrou gains green support, condemnation from Veil

With the ballot being finalized, UDF candidate Francois Bayrou has been gaining the support of several prominent "green" politicians whose own presidential campaigns have faltered.

First came former Environment Minister Corinne Lepage, who ducked out of the campaign last Sunday to support Bayrou. Today came the nominal support of Antoine Waechter of the Independent Ecological Movement, who had failed in his attempt to gain the necessary number of signatures to be on the ballot. Waechter admitted that he did not agree with with Bayrou's position on maintaining nuclear power, but that Bayrou is may be their best bet.

"What we want, it is to find the means of making break up the political yoke that we have in France with the two parties of alternation who share power. Perhaps Bayrou can be the instrument of that."

That being said, Bayrou has also earned criticism from Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and prominent French political figure who has already declared her support for Sarkozy. During a recent newspaper interview, Veil said that:

"It is necessary to choose and I chose. I am not a socialist and Bayrou is worse.

All that he was able to do when he was Minister for National Education, was to put a million people in the street."

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Sarko speaks to banlieues

UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy appearead on a French music radio station today, where he addressed the needs of poor French suburbs and his taste in music. Sarkozy said that he wants a "Marshall Plan" for the young in these districts in order to give them a chance for their future.

"What I want it is that in the buildings the young people say themselves 'that is better to rise early the morning to go to work, to create a family, to have wages rather than be a drug dealer.'''

As for music, Sarkozy said that he likes "Corneille, Calogero, Raphaël or Faudel in rappeuse Diam' S." He also readmonished a certain group of rappers, saying that "One can say what one wants, but the calls with violence, I do not accept."

The only other interesting thing to come out of this is the order in which candidates are appearing on the same programs. Sarkozy was the first to appear on the TV show "J'ai une question a vous poser", followed by Royal and then Bayrou. Sarkozy was also the first to appear on the show "A vous juger", which Royal appeared on just this week. For this radio show, Bayrou will be the guest next Monday, and Royal on Tuesday.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Roughly 11 candidates to be on ballot

Today is the last day for presidential candidates to hand in 500 signatures of elected officials to the Constitutional Council in order to be on the ballot. The latest news from Le Monde says that a total of 11 candidates have declared that they have at least met the minimum, although the fate of anti-globalist and McDonalds destroyer José Bové remains uncertain.

Regardless, this still falls short of 2002, when 16 candidates managed to make it into the first round. It may however reflect the more concentrated nature of this campaign, with roughly 3/4 of the vote split between Sarkozy, Royal, and Bayrou, and an additional 13-odd % for Le Pen. This has left very little for the fringe candidates, reflected especially in their low poll numbers.

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Sarkozy gets support, corn dumped at headquarters

UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has been blisteringly attacked over his idea to create a minister of immigration and national identity, but a new poll suggests that most of the French are on his side.

55% of those polled were favorable to the creation of the ministry, which breaks down to 30% completely in favor and 25% who like the idea and what it has stirred up. While the idea is generating strong support from the right, 73% of the socialists are against it, along with 40% of those who follow the center-right UDF of Francois Bayrou.

Yet if this was good news for Sarkozy, he got another unexpected gift today. Greenpeace dumped 8 tons of genetically modified corn in front of his Paris headquarters in order to protest the fact that he has not yet endorsed a moratorium on the planting of genetically modified crops. Although they can still access the building, the mailman explained that as far as the mail is concerned, "They will wait."

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Segolene accepts "All depends on me!"

Socialist candidate Segolene Royal appeared on the France 2 television show "A vous de juger" tonight, admitting that success in this campaign depends entirely on her, and brushing away fears of a Bayrou upset in the first round.

"All depends on me and this is why this combat is absolutely crucial and this is why I am determined to make the French understand me.

A presidential election, by nature, is a direct bond between a person and the French people. It is not the election of a political party. It is not a legislative election."

As for Bayrou, Royal said that "I await his program. We will discuss it. The French will choose. I am trustful. At that moment, there will be the hour of truth."

Despite this honesty (and a bit of bravado with regard to Bayrou), Royal was hounded by questions about the former Socialist economic secretary, Eric Besson, who resigned in disgust soon after Royal's presidential pact was announced. Besson is apparently writing a critical book, in which he says that he fears the election of Royal for his children. Considering that statements like that are rather difficult to respond to, Royal sidestepped the accusation, and tartly replied:

"He has talent, Eric Besson. He should have spoken about France, that would have been more interesting."

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Sarkozy turns populist with union leaders

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Nicolas Sarkozy met with union members today at an Airbus factory, where he sounded surprisingly populist in comparison to his normally business friendly rhetoric.

"I will oppose with all my force, if I am elected president of the Republic, that which a shareholder asks for dividends in a company where one removes 10,000 jobs: either there is money, or it is not. If there is not to keep the employees, there is not to remunerate the shareholders, that is clear. (...)

I want the raising the moral standard of capitalism. I do not believe in capitalism which does not have ethics, not morals. I believe in capitalism of the creators, not of the speculators or of the predators."

With the latest polls putting Bayrou within inches of the second round, Sarkozy knows that he must tone down his pro-capitalism to prevent Bayrou's more mild reforms from capturing the minds of a nervous French populace. This will continue to be a challenge, as Bayrou is consistently beating Sarkozy in one on one matchups. Sarkozy can only be thinking one thing: let Segolene win.

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38 candidates, but not 38 choices

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As of now there are 38 candidates who have declared their intention to run for the French presidency. This will ultimately narrow by Friday, when all are required to hand in 500 sponsorships to the Constitutional Council, but it is still a rather large number of hopefuls. In 2002 16 candidates entered the first round, which I believe was a record at the time.

Unlike last time, most of the polls show that the votes are heavily concentrated between only 4 candidates, Sarkozy, Royal, Bayrou, and Le Pen. Other candidates are finishing at 2% and below. In the first round of 2002, 5 candidates below the top 4 scored over 4%, and 4 others won 2%-4%.

There is also an incredibel age gap among the declared candidates, with the 25 year old Franck Abed of "National Reconciliation" and the 78 year old Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fickle polls show Bayrou declines

Almost every recent poll has shown UDF candidate Francois Bayrou gaining points, mainly at the expense of Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy. This was prominently displayed in CSA polls, which on March 1 gave Bayrou 17% of the vote, and then on March 7 said that he had risen to 24%.

Today, the newest CSA poll shows Bayrou falling back three points to 21%, and Royal almost equal with Sarkozy with 26% against 27%. What does this all mean? There is no telling what will happen tomorrow.

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Le Pen has 500 signatures

It's official. National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has struggled for months to get the required signatures of 500 elected officials to be on the presidential ballot, went to the Constitutional Council today with his daughter to hand all 500 in. They will still add several more until Friday to ensure that even if some are invalidated, he will still pass the bar.

The happiest person today should not be Le Pen, although he is certainly relieved, but Nicolas Sarkozy, who needs to satisfy the far right in the first round so that they will vote for him in the second. Polls also show that if Le Pen is not in the first round, Francois Bayrou would defeat Segolene Royal, which would then mean a defeat for Sarkozy in the second round.

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Polls show muddled outcome

The most recent polls for the upcoming presidential election show no clear winners and a still uncertain electorate.

With under 40 days to go until the first round of voting, all three major candidates are within striking distance of each other. UMP candidate and current leader Nicolas Sarkozy has fallen from a strong lead down to 28%, followed still closely by Segolene Royal with 25%. Francois Bayrou continues to advance at both of their expenses, and is now at 24%. If one takes into account the margin of error of 3-4%, there is no predicting what will happen come election day.

The certainty of voters is also undergoing a dramatic shift to the middle. Several days ago 80% of voters for Jean-Marie Le Pen said their choice of him was final, but that has dropped an enourmous 11 points down to 69% today. Segolene Royal still leads Francois Bayrou in this category by 59% to 45%, but Bayrou has been advanced 3 points while Royal fell 5.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sarkozy defends national identity

With Minister of the Culture Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres in the background, Nicolas Sarkozy strongly defended his plan to create a "minister of immigration and national identity" in the most political savvy way imaginable. Accused of xebophobia and pandering to the extreme-right, Sarkozy announced that he is actually defending the "national identity" from Le Pen's extremism.

"I will continue to speak about the national identity because I do not want to leave the monopoly of the nation to the extreme right-hand side. I want to speak about the French nation because I do not accept the image that Jean-Marie Le Pen gives it."

Sarkozy also stepped headfirst into the culture wars, in which he condemned "the heritage of May 68" and the "cultural and moral relativism." May 1968 was a time of massive French protests, mainly promoting far-left causes. Ironically, although Sarkozy has always tried to distance himself from accusations that he is an American neoconservative, many American neoconservatives moved away from the American left during the 60's because of the perceived moral equivalency some equated with the Soviet Union and the United States.

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