On One Hand

April 4, 2007

French Elections Could Tip Balance in U.S. Primary

The the French presidential election process is honing in on three candidates, one of which, if elected, may very well become the hottest national leader in human history.

Ségolène Royal

Ségolène Royal is the Socialist Party candidate for the French 2007 presidential election. Even by French standards her policies are on the left, but with the crumbling image of the incumbent, the bumbling right-winger Jacques Chirac, Royal stands a better chance of winning than most non-Centrist candidates as the person who most contrasts the current government. Her win could also ride a wave of left-wing victories in Europe that was recently sparked by European animosity toward the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

France, with a multiple-party system that contrasts American two-party dualism, holds its elections in a run-off process, with the first vote to take place on April 22. The leaders of that preleminary vote go on the ballot in the second round of voting, which will take place on the 6th of May. The possibilty of a French female president will begin to hit the U.S. media when the French presidential campaign officially starts on March 19.

If elected, Ségolène Royal would be the first female president in the history of France. She would preside simultaneously with Angela Merkel, who leads neighborhing Germany as first female chancellor of that country, elected as recently as 2005.

The U.S. Connection

The historical event of Royal’s election could have a significant impact on the presidential race in the U.S., where headlines might read: France Elects First Female President. Is the United States Next? Hillary Clinton, the first seriously-considered female Presidential candidate in American history, would obviously be the immediate topic of conversation. Many Democrats are ambivalent toward their leading candidate, but they are also more excited about the idea of a first female president than Americans in general are. Ségolène Royal’s appearence in the American consciousness might lead to a boost in Clinton’s polls within the Democratic Party. News sources could point out that if Clinton became the first Female U.S. president in 2009, human history would be made as 3 of the 6 most powerful economies in the world would be simultaneously led by women.

Clinton herself snubbed a meeting with Royal earlier this year, probably in an attempt to distance herself from Royal’s politics, which would be considered extremely far-Left by American standards. Royal is emphatically pro-gay and liberal on national defense and education, aside from being nominated as “Socialist” with a markedly pro-government economic policy. She manages her LGBT-tolerant attitude while assuming the role of the “family-values” candidate, as she, a married mother of four children, campaigns against violence on television, and advocates tougher sentencing standards for violent criminals.

The attractiveness of a women in power is usually more discussed than that of men, as was true for Royal when photos of the 53-year-old politician on a beach wearing a bikini were released in the French media last year (see below). I’m no expert on French culture, but I think this reluctance to trust attractive women may be less true for France, a nation that puts the silhouette of a pretty young girl, hair flowing gracefully behind her, on its national emblem. (Meanwhile, America’s own feminine emblem of freedom, the Statue of Liberty, was donated as a gift from France.) Royal seems to take little effort to tone her femininity down – in opposition to what Hillary Clinton has done with drab blazers and an age-appropriate haircut – instread dressing in brightly-colored, fashionable clothing, which she is said to have inensified as her candidacy gained heat.

A BBC article from November 17 of last year, published just after was Royal chosen as the Socialist Party’s candidate, gave her an “even chance” of beating center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, a well-spoken social-moderate and economic-libertarian (in American terms) who is known for his outspokenness and willingness to disclose opinions that might upset his constituents. But more recent press from March 19 has noted the emergence of Centrist candidate François Bayrou as an appealing middle-way between the other parties’ Left- and right-Wing ideologies. This makes it more likely that the first round of elections will produce no candidate with a majority of more than fifty percent of the vote, carrying the top two candidates to duke it out in the second round.

The fourth candidate on scene is Jean-Marie Le Penn, an ultra-right-wing nationalist with an anti-Immigration stance and a record of service in the French military. His polls are scoring far lower than the other candidates’ and liberals and moderates don’t consider him a serious threat, but he does stand a chance to eat away at the center-left vote that would otherwise go to Nicolas Sarkozy. In American politics, an ultra-Conservative challenger to take votes away from the mainline-Conservative candidate would be a positive for the Liberals. But remember that France has a two-tiered election, so this is not the case; the split between Sarkozy and Le Penn could split the Conservative vote and send the moderate and the liberal to the final round. In this scenario, where all French citizens have a choice between the two, the moderate appears more favorable.

This is highly unlikely to happen. More probable is that Sarkozy, who is first in the polls, will face off with Royal in the second round of elections. It is then her challenge to assume Bayrou’s votes by appearing appealing to Centrists, while Sarkozy will more than likely snatch all of Le Penn’s second-round votes.

A March 7th poll by CSA gave Le Penn 14 percent in the poll. Next, 24 percent went to Centrist François Bayrou, 25 percent to Socialists’ Ségolène Royal and 26 percent for the centre-right’s Nicolas Sarkozy. In this breakdown, the two lowest candidates would be eliminated in the first round and Royal and Sarkozy would face each other next. (The other 8 candidates, from French minority parties ranging from Communist to Green, will undoubtedly be eliminated in the first round.) But small shifts in polling could give Bayrou a boost, or even knock Royal out of the running. Only time will tell.


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