Bout de dernière minute

Me (via text message): Any last minute tips on l'election for me?

Vincent: I have gone into my delphic trance and the only thing I can tell you is that according to le monde 3.3 million new voters have registered since 2002 (making the total 44.5 million, a peu pres). That's the young and ethnic minorities, and more than half of those registrations were made in the last quarter of '06, around the time most candidates were announced. Il semble qu'ils veulent prendre les choses en main.

Some things you should know about this:
a) Vincent is very often on the money.
b) But I didn't say I would be broadcasting his reply, so don't hold him to anything.
c) That is a ridiculously long text message.

(Postscript: Me: A-ha! Thanks. Il sera interessant s'ils font cela! ... croissant.

Vincent: Tres bien dit, mon vieux!

Can someone please translate? I don't speak French, Babelfish is spouting nonsense - have I committed a faux pas?)

Joseph | 22 Apr 2007

Mon 30 Apr 2007, 10:48PM Vincent

Hmmph. Since a fella apparently can't send a text message in confidence, I may as well preemptively submit the following email I sent Joseph as an update to the above SMS. But to make his job of publishing my private correspondence easier, I'll just give you all the password to my gmail account and be done with it. It is: "tootrusting07"


"Tres bien dit, mon vieux", by the way, is my rusty attempt at "well said, old chap". But more competent French speakers than I would probably laugh good-naturedly and start speaking in perfect, fluent English to me at this point. On to the letter:

Just thought I'd give my running observations on la presidentielle. I think Sarko is starting to crack a little bit. Mainly this is because Francois Bayrou is in practice swinging behind Segolene Royal - despite stating two days ago that he would not officially endorse either candidate. Sego courted Bayrou for a debate and got him on board - it took place Saturday night. For Sego it was a vital to book him because she can't win without most of the UDF (Bayrou) voters, and this debate was in aid of winning them over and establishing 'common ground'. Bayrou said that he would accept a similar debate with Sarko, but that's not likely to happen now for two reasons.

One, Bayrou clearly dislikes Sarkozy's personal leadership style and his willingness to use 'intimidation and menace' as well as his tendency towards the centralisation of power. Bayrou thinks that Sarkozy is more likely to end up 'tearing the social fabric' of France. He has significant issues with Royal's candidacy, too, but they mainly centre around her economic programme, which he thinks is still too backwards-looking and conservative Socialist Party stuff. So Bayrou's problem with Sarko is more personal and also more fearful. On its own this has not spoiled the chances of a debate between the two of them. However, not long before the debate between Royal and Bayrou was due to start, the television station Canal + said that it would withdraw from televising the Sego-Bayrou debate (because of equal-exposure regulations that are similar to the American Equal Time Rule). Bayrou then made the extraordinary allegation that this was Sarkozy's doing - accomplished through his renowned media contacts - and that this confirmed his worst fears about the dude. So that kind of dampens the prospect of a civil gabfest between the two.

Two, it seems that for his part, Sarkozy is not reacting well to Bayrou's obvious preferences. He is talking about the 'demonisation' of his character and candidacy. But he is starting to throw caution to the wind - he's called Bayrou a 'bad loser' and has described the Sego-Bayrou interrogation a 'false debate'. He was still trying to invite UDF voters into his camp during a speech at a big rally in Paris today, but he has effectively flushed that from materialising, whether he intended to or not. In the end he rejected the chance of a talk with Bayrou outright, so he really wants to have his cake and eat it.

All in all, I would have to say that UDF voters who were looking for some counsel for where to put their vote are not going to give it to Sarko now. Even though Bayrou refuses to give an official endorsement, he and Sarko have been rubbishing each other while Segolene has sought a direct dialogue with B and makes reassuring noises about future cooperation. If you were a UDF voter wanting to cast a ballot in the 2me tour, where would all this lead you?

The debate was quite interesting, both Bayrou and Royal treated it as an exchange of ideas rather than a point scoring exercise. One of the most interesting policies that Sego expounded on, and tried to link with Bayrou's democratic reform agenda, was putting a referendum to the people on a VIth Republic, with a consitution that would decrease the power of the executive relative to the National Assembly and the Senate, introducing proportional representation, and a generally more robust conception of parliamentary government. Bayrou's dislike of her economic platform remains, but I think she will have got as much of that vital centrist bloc as is available without shifting her entire policy platform to the centre. The only remaining question is, how many members of that bloc will abstain or vote 'blanc' rather than make her their second choice?

Speaking for myself, this campaign just gets more interesting. I think the way this is headed, we could see a 2nd placer from the 1st round win the Presidency - it has happened before!

However, there's still some way to go: the last poll I saw puts Sarkozy on 52.5% and Royal on 47.5% - that is a drop of 1.5% on Sarkozy's part, though. So my official verdict remains "Too Close To Call", although I reckon I'll be in a position to call it after Wednesday, when Sego and Sarko actually go head to head on TV. On verra!

Mon 30 Apr 2007, 10:56PM Joseph

Thank-you Vincent. Somehow the original SMS doesn't look so ridiculously long anymore.

Roll on Wednesday!

Tue 1 May 2007, 3:30PM Vincent

Here's some more grist to the mill for all you francopoliticophiles.

Just seen a new set of polls. According to one of them, it seems that since Saturday (when Royal and Bayrou had their gabfest), Segolene la Reine's vote amongst Bayrou voters lifted by around 4%. That's a pretty good result, and brings her total Bayrou catch to around 55-57% of his voters, depending on which poll you're looking at.

But it's still not enough to put her clearly on top. Here's the breakdown:

Sego started out with a primary vote of 25.9%. With 57% of Bayrou's primary score (18.6 points), that brings it up to 36.52%.

The polls also suggest, incredibly, that Royal could get between 11-26% of Jean-Marie Le Pen's 1st round vote (which was 10.4%). Let's take the more conservative estimate - I've taken the more generous estimate in all other areas of this calculation, but it's hard to see Royal getting a quarter of the FN vote, and anyway I'm being consistent here in using the same results from a single poll (IFOP 30/04/07). This makes the running total for Royal to 37.66%

Then we get to the "autre" parties. Let's make the (extremely generous) assumption that none of these first round voters will abstain in the second round. Let's also say that Royal can rely on the first round votes from the Revolutionary Communist League, Communist Party of France, The Greens, Worker's Struggle and the Worker's Party (the traditionalist Movement for France is on Sarkozy ground and it may be safe to say that the "Hunting, Fishing, Nature and Tradition" voters unlikely to go socialist. Together these blocs nominally represent 3.38% for Sarkozy. I'm assuming Jose Bove's anti-globalisation party will abstain altogether. This may not be realistic, but may make up for the assumption that all the other parties will refrain from abstention). That would add a further 9.25% to her total tally - but remember this is being very generous. So the running score for Sego is now 46.91%, and there are no votes left to carve up. This leaves her short of the Palais de l'Elysee and is in rough agreement with one of the latest overall polls which puts the split at 47-53 to Sarko.

The rest of these figures being equal then, Segolene la Sereine needs to boost her share of the Bayrou camp to around 74% of his catch, which translates to 13.76% of the total 1st round vote (this is consistent with a BBC correspondent's calculations, which puts the required share of Bayrou's vote at 73%). This would give her 50.05%... the barest of wins.

This would appear quite difficult, given that her discussion with Bayrou on Saturday would seem to have been the best performance she could have made to the end of winning over his voters.

The Le Monde article I linked to also contains a closer analysis of the Bayrou bloc. Although Royal has a majority of all those who voted for Bayrou in these newest polls, it seems that if you look at the subset of UDF (Bayrou's party) party members/sympathisers, not just those who are voting specifically for Bayrou, the majority will switch their vote to Sarkozy. This is reflective of the fact that the UDF as a centrist party has traditionally operated closer to the right than the left. Bayrou's significantly higher score this year probably means that he's won over more first-time voters or those who were originally from the left anyway. And this has made a mark on the overall character of his bloc: 51% of his voters see an alliance with the socialists as more natural, whereas 33% prefer an alliance with the right. This is all to say nothing so much as that it is probably incorrect to assume that Bayrou's voters are more or less homogeneous and that if they will all fall in one direction. Much anecdotal reporting suggests that many have not made up their minds and find the final decision extremely difficult. If you can make a strong point, though, it seems that the fatal flaw for Royal amongst this group is here dedication to the 35-hour week. Although this will have been best choice to keep her base, it has made it difficult for "Bayroosters" to switch to her camp en masse.

But remember some other wildcards... the turnout is very likely (but not guaranteed) to increase for the 2nd round (although admittedly from an already impressively high base of nearly 85%). Consider those who see the stakes being high, and the starkness of choice, in being induced to come out of the woodwork. It may also result in fewer "blanc" votes.

Note also the idea that many French voters vote "in rejection" of the other candidate, a theory that Joe suggested to me a few weeks ago and which appears to be at least half-true. Sarko is generally seen as the most objectionable candidate here, in personal terms - it has to be said that the negative campaign against his rundoes tend to highlight his personality and "tendencies". I've even read suggestions that many of Le Pen's goons couldn't bring themselves to vote for him, because of his semi-Jewish heritage (on his Mother's side) and his Hungarian origins. Unfortunately anti-semitism is not dead and gone in Europe.

Finally, although the numbers say that 80% of those polled have already made their casting choice, with 12% having a "marked preference" in mind, the final stages of any campaign often hold plenty of galvanising surprises - and the 8% who still have no preference at all can easily resolve that 47-53 or 48-52 (depending on the poll) split either way. Tomorrow's debate will undoubtedly be instructive.

So I'm still treating it as Too Close To Call, mainly because I'm not really, as Joe puts it, "very often on the money". But if you want an indication of where I'm leaning, then I'm less easily persuaded of a Royal win than I was before. Still,looking forward to Wednesday's debate. Allons-y!

P.S. just read that around 7% of Bayroosters plan to abstain, and a further 7% haven't decided whether to go with a casting vote or abstention. I could factor this back in to my calculations, but I'm too frickin' pooped.

Thu 3 May 2007, 1:50AM Vincent

Le Pen has ordered his troops to abstain. This makes the impending debate crucial for Segolene Royal, and possibly more tantalising. Royal does, as the comment above says, have votes to lose from a Le Pen abstention. But Sarkozy has more to lose...and the effect of Le Pen's disdain may be to reinforce the "rejet" effect for Front National voters who do end up voting anyway - meaning a vote for Sego? The potential near-absence of the whole Le Pen bloc does not, however, diminish the need for Royal to significantly improve her lead in the Bayrou bloc. And remember that she's also relying on non-socialist voters on the left to uniformly stick with her.

Le Monde is saying the debate is probably "the last event that can alter the outcome" (my pedestrian translation doesn't really capture the style of "modifiying the final hand of cards" in French - but it is less unwieldy). And it's really up to Royal to win it, and win it big, if the final hand's gonna look any different. Sarkozy can get away with cruising through.

So for you politics junkies, continue the bad card metaphors and put on your world poker tour shades and hawaiian shirts on. The penultimate round of the tournament starts at 6:00 am tomorrow (thursday 3rd) Melbourne time. When the hour arrives, watch it here...ce n'est que pour les geeks!

Drinking game (at 6 in the morning!) Pick a candidate and drink when they perform one of the following action:

Segolene Royal says the word "sereine" to describe her leadership style - 1 drink

Nicolas Sarkozy subsequently tries using the same word for the same end, while sweating like Nixon in '60. - 2 drinks

Segolene Royal makes a point of emphasising or including a feminine-gendered pronoun or definite article, where she is not grammatically obligated to do so - 1 drink

Nicolas Sarkozy indignantly declares that the Socialist campaign has relentlessly attacked his personality rather than his policies. Then takes a kitten out of his pocket to insistently demonstrate his tender side - 1 drink

The kitten is dead, killed by Sarko's nervous habit of thumping his hip while enraged - 5 drinks.

Segolene Royal attends the debate dressed like Mon Mothma, but with longer hair and and a shorter skirt - 1 drink.

Segolene Royal delivers her lines with the clunkiness of Anakin Skywalker, but with longer hair and a shorter skirt. - 1 drink

Nicolas Sarkozy, by contrast, delivers a fluid declamation whilst prowling around his seat, like a goddamn cat. - 1 drink

Sego mentions a VIth Republic to rebuild the democratic integrity of France's political institutions - 1 drink.

Sarko preemptively describes a IXth Republic, to be promulgated after the 5th three-cornered French civil war between muslim immigrant unionists, the embezzling emigre CEOs of French oil multinationals, and the Huguenots. - 3 drinks

Francois Bayrou stumbles, drunk, on to the set, shrieking accusations that Sarkozy is plotting to kill the pope - 20 drinks!!!!! Win the game!!!!!

Thu 3 May 2007, 1:56AM Vincent

oh, by the way. Here's the link to the live feed of the debate. It'll get switched on at the right time, of course.

Thu 3 May 2007, 9:03AM Joseph

I think I'm only sober because I can't understand French. And I couldn't tell whether that was a kitten!

Great write-up Vince. I'm still trawling my English-speaking sources for some indication of an outcome. There's a dearth of exclamation points on, which has been my primary measure so far..

Thu 3 May 2007, 9:21AM Joseph

It is presumably in the traversal of languages, but the transcriptions here have the "Yes I can, No you can't" air of a school-yard arm-slapping duel.

Looks like Sego came out very aggressively. If a female politician did that here, there would scarcely be any point in her contesting an election four days later. I'm really interested in how the French respond to it — it certainly doesn't seem like 'presidential' demeanour, but maybe it toughens up her policy status? I can't imagine there's the same widespread recoil from a woman expressing strong opinions, or arguing heatedly, in France. But it also sounds like Sarko put in a good performance — muted, cooler, with less creepy? I'm quite interested in reading an analysis from The Times (and of course, more particularly, from Vincent).

Thu 3 May 2007, 11:51AM Vincent

Yeah, it was a very heated argument at times. I think a lot of it has to do with the format of the debate, actually. Having the two candidates sitting, facing each other, would have that effect. Also the fact that here are two adjudicators seems totally unproductive to me since it would decrease the authority and effectiveness of both. Say what you like about Kerry and Ray, but they can shut up a politico when the time comes. The reason they had two, I think, was that two TV channels ran the debate and had to have a representative from both. The overall format seems to be traditional, because I saw a photo of Valerie Giscard D'Estaing and Francois Mitterrand from 1981 and it was essentially the same deal.

I didn't find the combativeness a turn off, though. But I will need to take stock before I give you my final take. Gotta go meet Wayne now!

Fri 4 May 2007, 2:23AM Vincent

Okay, here's my take on the debate. First of all, the style of the debate, which has been widely reported, was indeed tense, and was really an incredible battle of attrition - nearly 2 and a half hours of discourse. I have to admit, as well, that the periodic descent into quarrelling left me aghast. However, I was not turned off, in fact the whole thing had me glued in place.

Royal's combative approach was almost certainly a deliberate strategy - she had more to gain from this debate than Sarkozy. Sarkozy, equally, probably deliberately chose to take a low-key courteous approach as he could afford to cruise. But both approaches began to unravel as time dragged on. Sego will get some significant credit for appearing more assertive but will be criticised for the moments where she went over the top or tried to attack Sarko on too many fronts at once, creating a bottleneck of issues at some points that was easy for Sarko to gently ridicule. Sarko for his part, may have thought it enough to keep a lid on any lashing out and whipping Sego on economic issues. But his forced courteousness often became condescenscion, a couple of jibes at the relationship between Royal and her partner/Secretary of the Socialist Party Francois Hollande, and his tendency to address the adjudicators instead of making eye contact with his opponent, all made him look shifty at times.

Let's move to substance. Sarkozy was at his forensic best when taking apart unfinalised aspects of Sego's economic programme, like how she planned to top up the national superannuation fund, communicating directly with Royal instead of casting his words over to his side at the anchors.

Sego covereed a lot of ground and actually initiated discussion on areas traditionally thought of as Sarkozy's strengths, but she was undone by an occasional strategy of throwing too many issues at once to Sarko, and cluttering the field of the debate. She also used some unwieldy real-life examples of dubious relevance to attack Sarko's positions. She was also as ever severely hampered by the 35 hour week. At one point Sarkozy turned the tables on her criticisms of public hospital staffing and funding by arguing that these issues had been created by compulsory conformity by hospital staff to the 35-hour week.

Both apparently made mistakes in a debate about nuclear energy (Sarko likes relying on it and wants to build new reactors to increase energy independence, Sego wants to increase the proportion of renewables in the French energy 'mix')

On the whole, I think that Sego's hard attack worked for her. It could have backfired on her quite significantly, but I believe that she held her guard, her eye contact and her body language in a way that made it all seem sincere.

Having said that, the first poll out says that 53% found Sarkozy "more convincing". I want to see some results from IFOP, LH2, and some others I've been following. Because I think the reaction in reportage has indicated a great deal more ambiguity than that.

I was thinking very seriously of calling the 2nd round for Sarkozy, but after thinking it over for the past few hours I can't bring myself to do it. I think Sarkozy mucked up his 'calm' strategy by appearing and acting too smug, and although Royal made about 40 too many interjections, it was not a performance that could really be labelled 'hysterical' and has been accorded with some respect from many early quarters.

Bayrou is clearly, but still unofficially, on her side now, but I'm not sure how much she can rely on his voters. His own UDF party has basically stepped away from his "personal choice". Almost all UDF deputies to the National Assembly have endorsed Sarkozy, save a couple who refuse to give an endorsement or even hint at one like Bayrou has. That Bayrou wants to create a new "democratic party" is a sign of how little weight he now carries in the party despite having won the crucial share of the 1st round vote.

A final note. Foreign Policy was barely mentioned. Iran was very briefly mentioned, Darfur a little more, but that was it. Both candidates are assuming that the legislative elections will give their own party government, thus allowing them to carry out their domestic agenda unimpeded. In the somewhat unlikely case where this doesn't happen and the result is cohabitation, then the traditional division of duties is foreign affairs for the president and domestic affairs for the parliamentary government. Both candidates, presumably, will be a little stuck if this happens.

Sun 6 May 2007, 6:10PM Vincent


The booths have been open for about an hour now, and the common wisdom is that we are looking at a Sarkozy victory. The debate didn't appear to make any difference to the split - the most favourable poll for Royal showed no difference from before the debate (47%-53%) and the most favourable gave Sarkozy a rise to about 54.5%.

If it isn't already obvious, I've been gunning for Royal to win... which is still possible for reasons we've already gone over, but the giveaway is that me and people like me are using the word still.

I haven't been backing Royal without reservations. I don't think her economic programme is all that innovative, which may not be essential to stop France from sliding into some melodramatic decline, but only needs to remove some of the more onerous aspects of the French economic model, like the 35 hour week, to energise the country without jeopardising the social provisions of that model.

In that respect I actually think that someone like Nicolas Sarkozy wouldn't be bad for France. He isn't an ideologically pure Hayekian. He is, after all, a Frenchman, and probably won't be tearing down the whole Gallic dirigiste tradition anytime soon, just (for now) the most stupid parts of it.

However, Sarkozy is a sneaky son of a bitch who has no qualms about skating along the vibrating fractures of French society. There is, I suppose, a chance that everything that he has said and done in his tenure as Minister of the interior has been aimed squarely at preparing his record and the electoral ground for a run at the Presidency. As a person with an immigrant past and Jewish blood, perhaps his true feelings are a great deal less unscrupulous than they have appeared over the past few years.

Royal, however is the safest social bet. She sees the potential for conflict in youth unemployment, marginalised immigrants (both illegal and legal), and the eroding legitimacy of the EU in the eyes of the French. She's not without a conservative, family oriented cast of mind, but then that's one of the things that makes her so appealing to the electorate. However, her last big statement for the campaign was a call for her supporters to make "liars of the polls", so it remains to be seen whether she is appealing enough.

The key thing is what the centrist voters prioritise - desire for economic reform or fear of social instability - in exercising their vote.

Segolene Presidente! On y va!

Sun 6 May 2007, 9:51PM Joseph

It does seem that Sarko has been anointed, and like you say, it will be interesting to find out whether his governance will be more moderate than this prequel has indicated. Comparisons are being made to Thatcher*, but then, the same comparisons were even more common for Merkel, and that hasn't exactly borne out.

Been a very interesting campaign. I'm sure there's a twist of some sort to come. (The Times is tipping a riot.)

* On the topic of conservative 80s world leaders, did you notice all the Republican fawning over the memory of Reagan during the recent presidential candidates debate? Reagan was not as bad as Bush, but at times his grip on reality was tenuous. He was fortuitously situated at the end of a naturally concluding Cold War. It bothers me to see him on his way to political sainthood.

Mon 7 May 2007, 6:04AM Vincent

Sarko carries the day!

Polls closed about an hour and a half ago, and already partial results conform to the conservative estimates of the last polls, around 53.1% for Sarkozy to 46.9% for Segolene Royal.

Depending on how you look at it, the debate on Wednesday either had no effect at all or was neutralized by strong performances from both candidates.

Sarkozy's victory speech seems to have been fairly conciliatory. The campaign was fascinating, and his presidency will be equally fascinating to follow. France appears to have changed considerably to have elected him. Presumably this means a considerable right-wing headstart for the legislative campaign, given that he campaigned strongly on domestic issues. No riots yet, but the police are out in force... what will France's social politics look like at the end of this new presidential term, I wonder?

Segolene Royal has announced that she'll be the new leader of the opposition. Since I was too chicken to call a Sarkozy victory, I'll make this prediction instead: We'll be seeing Royal in as the candidate for the Socialist Party, or whatever the Socialist Party becomes if it splits, in 2012.

What a show! Look out for Bayrou's new look "Democratic Movement" Party in the legislatives coming soon!

Mon 7 May 2007, 6:17AM Vincent

Re: the Gipper. No I didn't even hear that there was a debate between the Republican candidates. Ah, it's harmless. Like bringing back hoop earrings and off-the-shoulder cinched dresses: it's a phase.

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