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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