Monday, March 19, 2007

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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