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The Upcoming Presidential Election in France
article by Walt Ballenberger
In several weeks there will be a Presidential election in France which will end the 12
year reign of Jacques Chirac.  It looks to be a close and interesting race, and the first
round of voting is on April 22.  Here is a brief look at the top four candidates in the
polls.

There are in fact 12 candidates who have qualified to be on the ballot based on
obtaining the endorsement of at least 500 elected officials (mostly town mayors).  
This list will be pared down to two, and a second round of voting will occur two weeks
after the first to decide the winner.  The reason for two rounds of voting is that the
President must be elected by a majority of those voting, and that is virtually
impossible in one round with so many candidates.  

Polls are notoriously inaccurate in France for choosing the eventual winner of an
election.  Many people do not decide upon their choice until the end of the campaign,
and at best the polls are a snapshot of feelings on a given day.

The leading candidate in the polls thus far has been Nicolas Sarkozy, the leader of
the UMP party.  M. Sarkozy is known to be tough, sometimes blunt, decisive, and
ambitious.  He generally favors free enterprise as opposed to socialistic tinkering with
the economy and markets.  In particular he opposes the mandatory 35 hour work
week limit passed several years ago by a socialist government.  He is also outspoken
about the existing immigration policies in France.  He recently resigned as Interior
Minister, a top cabinet position, in order to concentrate full-time on the campaign.  He
has held a lead in the polls for some time, but that lead is normally only a few
percentage points.  Polls currently indicate that he will be the top vote getter in the
first round and would defeat Mme Royal in a second round match-up but would lose
to Francois Bayrou in the second round.

The second strongest candidate in the polls thus far is Segolene Royal of the PS
(Parti Socialist).  The PS is of course on the left of the political spectrum.  Mme Royal
would be the first female President of France.  One might say that she has a certain
advantage in that the UMP party with Jacques Chirac, her most significant
opponents, has held the office for 12 years, and the French might be ready for a
change.  M. Chirac’s popularity is currently quite low, although it has picked up a bit
in recent weeks since he finally announced recently that he would not be a candidate
again.  Mme Royal has been slightly behind in the polls, but it is entirely possible that
she can win.

The third strongest candidate in the polls thus far, Francois Bayrou of the centrist
UDF party, has been a surprise.   At the beginning of the year his poll numbers were
low, about 6% intention to vote in the first round.  He has steadily moved up in the
polls to over 20%, a major advance, and he is thus not far from Mme Royal and M.
Sarkozy.  His centrist position  seems to be appealing to the French, and in fact if he
manages to make it to the second round, the polls show him defeating both Sarkozy
and Royal!  If he does not place in the top two, however, he will certainly have a large
voice in determining the eventual winner, assuming his followers will adhere to
whatever advice he chooses to give.

The fourth major factor in the campaign is Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the FN
party.  M. Le Pen is still dynamic at over 80 years of age, and he has been an
outspoken factor in French politics for a long time.  He actually made it to the second
round of the 2002 election by defeating the PS candidate.  This was a huge shock
for the French at that time.  It is inconceivable that M. Le Pen would ever be elected
President of France.  His message is very much right wing, and he is a strong
nationalist and would certainly curtail immigration to France substantially.  He is a
lightening rod for anti-immigration sentiment and has a loyal following with whom his
message resonates.  Current polls show him at 13.5% intention to vote in round one,
rather far behind Sarkozy at 28%, Royal at 23%, and Bayrou at 21%, according to
the Ifop poll released on 30 March 2007.  Le Pen surprised everyone in 2002,
however, and the polls did not predict his success at that time, so anything is
possible.

The other 8 candidates in the race, mostly from small far left or right wing parties, are
splitting up the remainder of the vote.  No other candidate has more than 3.5%
intention to vote in the first round, according to the Ifop poll cited above.  These
candidates are in the race to promote themselves and get their messages out as
best they can.

This race could easily be won by any of the top three candidates.  The results should
be known at about 2pm New York time on April 22, unless it is too close to call at that
moment.

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