Update : Chirac and Le Pen won the first round. A probably corrupt man and a far right leader. 50% of the people voted for candidates that couldn't lead a democratic country. Then Chirac won the second round. He will be the President until 2007. You will find below what I wrote a few days before the first round, and the results I noded after the results.
Next Sunday, probably more than 1/3 of the French will vote for a candidate who could not possibly rule a democracy: a trotskyite, a communist, a Green, an extreme-right candidate or even a hunter. Their candidacy may be seen as a joke in some countries and a menace in others. In France, they may gather almost as much votes as the two most serious candidates combined. And when I say "serious", I mean no less than the current Prime Minister and the current President.
So, how does it work?
It takes two rounds to make a President in France. 16 candidates will fight together during the first round, on April 21, 2002. The first two will come back for a second round, on May 5, 2002, unless one of them receives more than 50% of the votes in the first round, or an asteroid destroys Paris (the probabibility of these two facts is approximately equal). The Presidential term duration is 5 years; it used to be 7 years until a recent Constitutional reform.
So the French will elect a President, but they will not know exactly what powers this President will have exactly. Indeed, a new Assemblée Nationale (the main chamber of the Parliament) will be elected in June. Then the President will have to choose a Prime Minister in the Assemblée's political majority. So, either the President and the Assemblée will be on the same side, and the President will be one of the most powerful men in Europe. Or they will be opponents, and the President will have almost nothing to do during his five-year term because the Prime Minister will be the real Number 1.
In the last 16 years, the so-called "cohabitation" occurred during 9 years, including the last 5 years. However, every time a Parliament election immediately followed a Presidential election, it brought a majority on the President's side. See French political parties for all necessary details, French Constitution for all boring details.
And who are they?
France is the only country in world history where not one, not two, but three trotskyites are candidates in a Presidential Election. More importantly, one of them, Arlette Laguiller, may gather 8 to 10% of the votes according to recent polls. Arlette Laguiller belongs to a mysterious sect-like party that refuses democracy in favor of Revolution. This little woman, a retired employee of Credit Lyonnais , has been running for President in all Presidential Elections since 1974. She's an icon of French politics, and she looks nice and harmless. Other trostkyite candidates are Olivier Besancenot, a cute 27-year-old postman, and Daniel Glukstein.
On the opposite side, there is not one, but two candidates in the extreme-right. One of them is Jean-Marie le Pen, who may have 11 to 15% of the votes. The other one is Bruno Megret, Le Pen's former lieutenant. Their main idea about politics, economy and society is that the immigrants are bad and the French are good, except that the French who are good to the immigrants are bad.
Between them, other useless candidates are the communist guy, Robert Hue (who will probably have less votes than Laguiller), two Green candidates (Noel Mamere, a former TV journalist, and Corinne Lepage), a pro-family candidate and a pro-hunting candidate. Christine Boutin is a living anachronism who condems abortion and sees family as the solution to all problems. Jean Saint-Josse and his party, Chasse, Pêche, Nature et Traditions (Hunting, Fishing, Nature and Tradition), received more than 5% of the votes in the last European elections, and he may obtain the same success this year.
Other candidates are just as small, but have more realistic ideas. Jean-Pierre Chevènement, mostly famous for resigning from several Socialist governments, is an anti-European soft nationalist with some socialist ideas. Alain Madelin openly asks for liberalism (in the European sense of the word) and refers to Blair, Aznar and Berlusconi; like Boutin, he could be successful in the United States, not in France where liberalism is taken as an insult. François Bayrou represents UDF, a powerful center-right party, but many member of his own party prefer Chirac. Christiane Taubira belongs to a very small party in the center-left; she's a black woman, which is probably an advantage for a little-known left-wing candidate.
The next President will probably be either Lionel Jospin or Jacques Chirac, i.e one of the two men who have been ruling France during the last 7 years.
Lionel Jospin has been the Prime Minister since Chirac made the biggest mistake of his career by dissolving the Assemblée Nationale in 1997. Jospin is a Socialist, but he tried not to say it too loud at the beginning of the campaign. Then he noticed that 10 to 15% of the people were going to vote for the extreme-left, so he suddenly decided he was still a Socialist. Recent polls say he may have less than 20% of the votes in the first round. For the record, Jospin used to be a trotskyite himself in the 1960s, which he officially acknowledged a few months ago...
Jacques Chirac is the President. He was elected in 1995. It is widely believed that, during his previous job as Mayor of Paris, he was partially responsible for a corrupt system regarding public markets. He never accepted to speak to judges because, according to him, the Constitution forbids the President from answering questions asked by judges. Maybe he wants to remain President in order to avoid prison; but most of the judges who were in charge of these scandals have now resigned, so I don't think he will ever be seriously judged. Chirac may have 20% or less of the votes in the first round.
The result of the second round is difficult to guess. The margin is always non-significant, and the winner will probably have little more than 50%.
Furthermore, a poll this morning gave 18.5% to Chirac, 18% to Jospin and 14% to Le Pen in the first round. So it is not completely impossible that Le Pen may be in the second round. As Le Pen himself says, that would be an "earthquake".
So, is it good or is it bad?
The above picture looks pretty bad. But don't worry too much:
- Let's assume that Le Pen goes to the second round. The other candidate, whether his name is Jospin or Chirac, will have 70% or the votes. Le Pen cannot be elected.
- Ok, you still have a doubt. So let's assume that Le Pen becomes President. What happens? Almost nothing. A moderate left-wing or right-wing Assemblée Nationale is elected in June, because the people usually re-elect the guy who was there before, and Le Pen does nothing during 5 years. Of course it may not be very good for the image of France in the world.
France has a strange political system, but it's a strong democracy, and it has been so for 130 years, except when foreign armies were occupying the country. Few countries in the world have such a democratic tradition. And another thing is that we belong to the European Union, which means that we cannot do any stupid thing we may want to do; and that is a good thing.
I am only worried by the fact that many people in my country seem to have forgot the real meaning of the presidential election.
The results: first round
The first two will be present at the second round on May 5th, 2002:
The losers are:
The left received 37.81% of the votes, the moderate right 33.41% and the far right 19.57%, and yet the left will not be present in the second round because it was too divided.
27.86% of the electors did not vote, which is a record in France.
The results: second round
Chirac won the second round with around 82% of the votes. 5 years more with Chirac!