I asked a few French friends for their thoughts on Sunday’s socialist primaries. Here’s what they had to say:
Alexandre, translator, Paris
My two euro-cents (or lepta, perhaps?). I got up this morning with the rain pouring down quite hard. My first thought was: is this good or bad for the “primaires”? Will the proverbial “people of the left” shun the no-less proverbial “day out angling” (an ancient French excuse for not voting)? This actually seems to be the media’s main concern today: “the great unknown” is what they call the turnout. Fitting in a sense, because there doesn’t seem to be much else at stake today—although the TV debates leading up to the vote were unanimously described as polite and informed, they left me under the impression that not much had been achieved. The six candidates are all supposed to defend the same platform—a set of measures drawn up before what’s increasingly looking like a double dip—so it was mainly a clash of styles. Off I went with the kids to the usual polling station—a typical Third Republic school gym with a martial-looking but rather dusty bust of Marianne looming above the proceedings. There was a longish queue of would-be voters cracking jokes. “Let’s hope Marine (Le Pen, far right) doesn’t win, because if she gets her hands on today’s voting lists we’ll all be shot” was my favorite.
I hand in my ID and am asked to sign a charter: “I identify with the values of the Left and the Republic, the desire for a society based on liberty, equality, fraternity, secularism, justice, solidarity, and progress.” Is the Pope a Catholic? Signed. Then comes the next step—the rattling cardboard box full of one euro coins, meaning the process may be fair, but not free as such, as a minimum contribution is required. Then, I vote, for Martine Aubry, daughter of Jacques Delors, a former president of the European Commission (heard of him?). She doesn’t smile much, has suffered a good deal of hush-hush mud-slinging about her “drinking problem”, doesn’t count journalists for much, and talks about scaring the banks—so apart from point one, we’re not that different.
And then I do my stuff: play-park, lunch, more play-park, then home to watch the news. It looks like almost two million of us went out there to vote, and everyone seems to agree that’s a good thing. In other news, President Sarkozy was in Berlin with Chancellor Merkel to send out “a strong signal to the ratings agencies,” and Prime-Minister Fillon was in Brussels to discuss the bailout of Dexia, a Franco-Belgian bank that lends to city councils and local governments and is riddled with toxic assets.
Oh, and a TV station almost got torched by a radical Islamist mob in Tunisia for airing Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. They’re holding their own free and fair elections on October 23. The Islamists may top the polls.
Emmanuelle, psychoanalyst, Prat (Brittany)
I plan on voting for Martine Aubry, without a lot of conviction, but simply because I think she is the least bad of the candidates … She has experience in government and seems to me to have acted on the basis of her convictions. These days, that’s already rare enough! Otherwise, however, I am not planning on voting for the PS [the socialist party] on the first round of the presidential elections. [I’ll vote] probably for Eva Joly [the Green candidate]. Even so, I do think it’s important to participate in these primaries which, despite all that could be said about them, are on the whole a step towards greater democracy. I don’t have more to say, as I don’t feel very involved in French political life. More than anything I feel discouraged. But I don’t want to give up. There you go—that sums up my state of mind at present!
Jean-Michel, blogger and retired teacher, Nancy (Lorraine)
I wavered, as a voter who usually votes socialist in the run-off, wondering whether I should take part in that primary. I was not enthusiastic about any candidate. Eventually I did not vote and I do not wish I had done so.
My stance is that our society is heading towards major problems for various reasons. One is the looming environmental crises, particularly the climate one. Another is the economic system which is the realm of the corporate world, including in France. Other major issues are demography, which is a taboo problem. One aftermath of the clout of free-trade extremism is the current binge of privatization.
All the candidates were involved in a short-term competition … to win the next presidential election, not in a cooperative effort to try to curb the current drift away from real democracy.
Another point is that this primary will contribute to bringing about a bi-partisan system that will greatly resemble the American one. This tends to prevent new ideas from emerging, although the situation might change a little… with the “indignados” movement.
A trifle: when I tried to log in to know where I should vote on “les primairessocialistes”… the software stubbornly refused to take my address into account. When I entered my zip code… the answer was: there is no such place. This is no excuse, as I could have asked my local socialist friends…
Another reason why I was not enthusiastic at all is the amount of money that must have been spent by the candidates. Who pays for their campaigns, where does the money come from? How come there was far less media coverage for the green party’s primary? Then, if you can choose a party’s candidate without joining it, is it worth being involved in a party?
I am still hesitating for the run-off. If the goal is only to oust our current President and to try to stop the ever-increasing corruption cases around the current leadership of this nation … I might forget about my long-term prospects and … try to discover where the local polling station is.
Joel, teacher, Paris suburbs
I don’t vote socialist so I won’t go out to vote, though the election is open to everyone who is registered to vote, even if they are not socialist. I think François Hollande is the most serious, sincere, and capable of winning these elections, and that he also has a strong chance of winning the presidential elections. The other candidates are far behind him. But watch out for the National Front, which will be the “third force” in the next presidential elections! But the big event of the weekend was kicking the “roast-beefs” [i.e., the English] out of the Rugby World Cup…!
Jean-Vincent, professor, Auxerre (Burgundy)
I didn’t vote in Sunday’s primaries, as I was visiting family in Bordeaux and thus away from my polling station in Auxerre. I think Aubry has a serious chance of winning. She’s getting better each day, and she now seems to believe she can win. At first I preferred Hollande, but I find that he’s cornered himself into a “centrist” position that has rallied the “left of the left” against him.