No announcement yet.

French presidential elections

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • French presidential elections

    The daughter of the Front National's leader tells Jason Burke in Paris why a black woman is fronting its ads and why France is now ready to accept the devil it knows:

    Jean-Marie Le Pen is on holiday. The veteran French far right-wing leader is taking a final break before the gruelling political marathon he hopes will take him, if not into the Elysee Palace, at least into the second round of the presidential elections next spring.

    In his absence it is his daughter, Marine, 38, who is the face of the party. At her office in the Front National (FN) headquarters in the west Paris suburb of St Cloud, Marine Le Pen explained the idea behind the new, controversial poster campaign launched last week, which, for the first time, does not highlight the beefy features of her father, but features a woman of apparent immigrant origin.

    'For 30 years we have defended the interests of the French people, where ever they come from, whatever their race or religion,' she said. 'The idea of the posters is to put the French people in the foreground, not the candidate. We want to give them back the voice they have been denied by the political elite.'

    The strategy is working. Poll results published in Le Monde late last week showed the FN at its highest levels of support for years, even better than in the run-up to the 2002 election where it polled 18 per cent and went through to the two-candidate run-off of the second round. In 1997 nearly half of French people saw Le Pen's ideas as unacceptable; now only a third do. 'People are getting used to Le Pen and his ideas. They are becoming banal,' said Emmanuel Riviere, of pollsters TNS Sofres. Marine says this is only natural: 'People are only surprised because we have been caricatured for so many years. Now they are learning the truth. We have been seen as the devil for too long.' Truth for some, cynical marketing exercise for others. 'In France, we have a vulgar expression that you can't paint merde,' Le Pen, the youngest of former paratrooper Jean-Marie's three daughters, said. She was referring to the efforts of what she called political elites to 'cover up' the state of France's economic and social problems. Yet her phrase could equally be applied, critics say, to the FN itself.

    Marine Le Pen is at the spearhead of a radical attempt to change the image of her party. A 300-page autobiography Against the Flow, appearances in French media, a diet, a personal makeover as well as a new 'moderate' language have all led to new prominence for the former lawyer, divorcee and mother of three children. Her father is 78, contesting his sixth election, and everyone is aware that the time to pass the torch is not far away. Marine Le Pen is now, despite opposition from within the party and despite her own denials, best placed for the succession.

    'All extremist parties have a problem with what to do when the chief goes,' said Frederic Dabi, public opinion expert at pollsters Ifop. 'Marine Le Pen has built herself a popular base that is far from negligible.'

    A new chapter in the Le Pen family saga is opening. For it is indeed a saga - or a soap opera, according to critics. 'There is a real Dallas side to that family,' said Lorrain de Saint-Affrique, a former public relations adviser to the FN. 'The members detest each other but always reconcile their differences in the end.'

    Le Pen, his second wife, two of his daughters - including Marine - and their children share a mansion and five-hectare estate near the FN office. Daughter Marie-Caroline was ostracised from the party and the family when the FN split in the late 1990s, and she sided with her father's rival. Now she has returned, more or less, to the fold. Relations between Marine and her father have not always been straightforward either.

    'Like any family we have had our difficulties but we sort them out,' she told The Observer. 'The attacks against us have made us very close. There have been bombs; the divorce of my parents was all over the media.

    'As a child, at school, I was the daughter of the devil for many. But we are a tribe and we stick together.' Always a very physical presence in French politics, the 'grandfather' of the European far right is toning down his rhetoric, taking care to avoid slip-ups such as his infamous dismissal of Nazi gas chambers as 'a detail of history,' a description of the German occupation of France as 'relatively humane', or a complaint before the 1998 World Cup that the French football team was not white enough.

    And though their in-house literature makes much of it, the continuing trial of the FN's delegate general for Holocaust denial does not feature in public statements by Le Pen or his daughter either. Instead, as well as less talk about the 'immigration torrent' or 'France for the French', there are many pronouncements about the failure of the 'auto-proclaimed political-media elite' to represent honest, ordinary Frenchmen and women, of the failure of French democracy, of the collapse of French schools and other institutions, and of the two greatest bogeymen now inhabiting the French popular political landscape - threats of globalisation and 'Anglo Saxon' ultra-liberal economic systems.

    'The most revealing statistic in recent months was a poll that showed that half of French people believe they could end up as homeless on the street.

    'That is the depth of the anxiety of our compatriots,' Marine Le Pen said. 'The French people are asking themselves if there is an alternative to the traditional parties. And that is our chance.' The problem for the FN in the wake of the 2002 elections was that, though it had polled more than five million votes, it failed to break into the mainstream. With no MPs or even mayors, it has no formal presence in the French political system.

    'They saw that they were stuck on around 20 per cent of the vote,' said Jean-Yves Camus, author of Extremism in France. 'From then on, they knew that they needed to find new themes and an image that would allow them to reach out to new voters.'

    Some of those new voters are coming from surprising directions. One controversial visitor at a recent Le Pen rally was a comic whose 'jokes' about Jews have provoked a series of legal actions. Radical fringe elements claiming to represent popular sentiment in the poor suburbs around Paris have also expressed support for 'the new Front National'.

    But that does not mean that the new strategy is working, at least not yet. 'Our surveys show that France is not a more xenophobic or more intolerant place than it was a year ago. And women are particularly resistant to Le Pen,' said Riviere. Analysts also point out that a vote for a Le Pen is very often a protest vote. 'The majority of voters who vote FN do not actually want to see Le Pen in the Elysee palace,' said Pascal Perrineau, director of political research at Sciences-Polytechnic University in Paris.

    A key test will be the success or failure of Le Pen to gather the 500 mayoral signatures he needs to stand in a presidential election. At the moment, the FN is struggling to secure firm promises from mayors not yet convinced that the new image of the party will protect them from a grassroots backlash.

    Marine Le Pen blames the 'manipulation' of the process by the political establishment. This is another example of France's 'dysfunctional democracy,' she says.

    The younger Le Pen is proud of having organised the launch of the party's 2007 election campaign with a rally at Valmy, the revolutionary battlefield where the rag-tag footsoldiers of the young French Republic were victorious against all odds against their monarchic foreign enemies in 1792. In the end, it is at the lowest, individual level, where moral and motivation and ideas count most, that campaigns, military or political, are won or lost. The devil is in the detail.

    Who's that girl?

    With her pierced lip, low-cut jeans and, according to the Front National leaders, 'immigrant origins', she has caused a media stir.

    From the party that had complained viciously about immigrants for 30 years - and whose words had been translated into action by some people - the poster appears to be a major shift. In front of the words nationality, assimilation, social mobility and the secular state, each a traditional value of the French Republic, appears the slogan: 'The right and the left have ruined everything.'

    Party officials are coy over the exact identity of the girl shown in the poster, admitting that she is neither a front activist nor a member and saying only that she agreed to pose for the campaign and was - like the far more typical figures who posed in the other posters - promised anonymity.

    The other images for the campaign are closer to those traditionally associated with Le Pen and the Front National. A teenager in front of the words 'school, identity, future'. A middle-aged woman clutching a dog, before 'retirement, social security, protection'.

    'You vote for Le Pen like you choose a brand,' said Dominique Reynie, a political scientist. 'It's always the same promise: a political earthquake.'

    Le Pen dynasty's bid to renew appeal of far right

  • #2
    ....In the end, it is at the lowest, individual level, where moral and motivation and ideas count most, that campaigns, military or political, are won or lost. The devil is in the detail....
    Good point..
    A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
    By: George Bernard Shaw


    • #3
      Jean-Marie Le Pen, a French opposition leader has won the backing of a long-time enemy, in a move set to boost his chances in the 2007 presidential election.

      Bruno Megret, who left the National Front after argueing with Le Pen in 1998, said on Wednesday that he and his National Republican Movement (MNR) would support his former boss next year.

      "I'm withdrawing my candidature for the presidential election," said Megret, who scored 2.3 per cent of votes in the first round of the 2002 presidential election.

      In that election Le Pen took 16.9 per cent of the vote, to enter a run-off vote against Jacques Chirac who eventually won.

      Recent polls have shown increased support for Le Pen although he is lagging behind Segolene Royal, the socialists' presidential hopeful, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservatives' likely candidate.

      Both Royal and Sarkozy have courted voters with tough law-and-order policies in what commentators say is an effort to win over Le Pen voters.

      The 78-year-old Le Pen said he had overcome his differences with Megret for the "love of our homeland".

      "I think this is the start of a big popular movement, which could have a decisive impact on the presidential election," Le Pen told a news conference with Megret.

      In past months, Le Pen has sought to reshape his image and broaden his appeal. A new campaign poster does not, as usual, portray Le Pen himself, but features a woman of apparent immigrant origin.

      Le Pen has yet to secure the 500 signatures of support from mayors across France needed to run.

      Megret said he could provide Le Pen with some 140 signatures if necessary.

      "I will not allow the French to only have a choice between a vote for Sarkozy and a vote for Royal in the second round of the presidential election," Megret said.

      Le Pen makes deal with rival


      • #4
        PARIS: One of the odder phenomena of the current electoral season in France has been a mating dance between Dieudonné, a virulently anti-Semitic black comic, and Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, who has sought in recent years to temper his extremist message to attract a broader following.

        It is a tricky business for Le Pen, who came in second in the presidential elections five years ago and is expected to do well again this year. Embracing Dieudonné could cost him the backing of rightist voters attracted by Le Pen's hard line on immigration but repulsed by the comic's jokes about the Nazi gas chambers. At the same time, it could win Le Pen support among anti-establishment youth, many of black African and North African descent, whose anger has not died down since rioting erupted across France more than a year ago.

        Dieudonné, previously a popular mainstream comic and activist for progressive causes, has acquired pariah-hero status for elements of this fringe through anti-Jewish and anti-American satire far beyond the bounds of polite political discourse, and sometimes beyond the law.

        He was sued (unsuccessfully) under anti-terrorism laws in 2003 for saying he preferred "the charisma of bin Laden to that of George Bush." He was sued again after appearing disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew on France 3 television in December 2003 and appealing to "young people in the projects who are watching us today" to "join the axis of good, the American-Zionist axis."

        Dieudonné was fined in March for inciting racial hatred by describing Jews in a newspaper interview as "former slave traders who have turned to banking, show business and, today, terrorist action" through support of Israeli policies. He was fined again in June for slander for alleging in a magazine interview that a popular French television personality was financing the Israeli Army.

        His comments reverberate across the Internet directly or via sympathizers like Raphaël Confiant, a French writer from Martinique who substitutes the expression "the unnameable" (which carries the nuance "unspeakable" in French) for the word "Jews."

        Dieudonné, who partnered his act with a Jewish comedian for a decade before switching tacks, has made several forays into politics. He ran for Parliament on a black-rights platform in 1997 against a senior National Front politician, Marie-France Stirbois. He campaigned for the French presidency in 2002, and briefly campaigned last autumn before ending his candidacy.

        Before dropping out of the race in October, he visited the Middle East along with several French extreme-rightists, meeting in Beirut with leaders of Hezbollah and Jesse Jackson, the American civil rights activist.

        Then, in November, Dieudonné dropped in at the National Front's yearly festival, creating a stir. Although some Front supporters were nonplused, Le Pen and Dieudonné shook hands with broad smiles in images captured by television cameras. "What we have in common," Dieudonné was quoted as having said, "is that we have both experienced extreme diabolization."

        The visit angered former friends of Dieudonné.

        "He's lost his mind," said Julius- Amédée Laou, a black playwright who previously worked with the comic.

        Many supporters were confused, so Dieudonné called a meeting where he told participants that he wasn't asking them to vote for Le Pen — although he wasn't telling them not to, either. Some voiced dismay that Dieudonné was associating with Le Pen. But others, according to an article in Le Monde, asserted that France was in a "pre-revolutionary situation" and that they were "tempted by the idea of blowing up the system" by supporting Le Pen.

        As for Le Pen himself, he has seemed unable to decide whether the attention from Dieudonné is a blessing or a threat.

        When Dieudonné invited the National Front leader to the finale of his 2006 variety show in December, Le Pen stayed away but sent his wife, Jany; his No. 2, Bruno Gollnisch; and Eric Lorio, the former husband of his daughter and heir apparent, Marine Le Pen.

        According to press reports, Dieudonné parodied Hitler in his bunker, called for "freedom of speech" for Robert Faurisson, a Holocaust denier, and got big laughs for a sketch about a schoolboy who contests "the existence of air chambers."

        A few days later, Le Pen was asked on radio whether he found Dieudonné's brand of anti-Semitism funny and replied in the affirmative. "Yes, it can be rather funny," he said. "There should be no subjects that escape from criticism or irony."

        Gollnisch was also asked about Dieudonné. "He came to our festival, we went to his show — that doesn't mean we agree on everything," Gollnisch replied, according to Le Figaro. "If we can meet one day for a more serious discussion, why not?"

        That discussion may depend on how Le Pen reads the electoral intentions of first-time voters, who rushed to register in the last week of December, according to the Interior Ministry. The rush was strongest in some suburbs, where registrations are up 20 to 25 percent since the last presidential election, and where young people overwhelmingly oppose Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the leading candidate of the center-right.

        Sarkozy's hard line on rioters in the suburbs infuriated youth of North African and black African descent during the November 2005 disturbances; he has since waged a campaign to deport illegal immigrants.

        Leftists who sponsored the get-out- the-vote campaign expect anti- Sarkozy sentiment in the suburbs to benefit Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate for president. But the situation is volatile.

        Le Pen was endorsed recently by Ahmed Moualek, who runs a rabidly anti-Semitic, pro-Dieudonné Web site called "La Banlieue s'exprime" ("The Suburbs Speak"). The day after Dieudonné went to the National Front festival, the site got 40,000 hits, 10 times the norm. The site, like others, is campaigning against Sarkozy, making much of the fact that he is one-quarter Jewish.

        The vast majority of the French, including the black community, reject such hate messages. Still, it is impossible to predict how many young voters may take their cue from Dieudonné and support the National Front.

        With or without their votes, Le Pen is confident. "Sarkozy," he said as early as October, "has no chance of being present in the second round."

        Le Pen's tricky business


        • #5
          There is a waggish air about Jean-Marie Le Pen, patriarch of the European far right and France’s favourite political bogeyman, as he ponders the figures at the start of what may be his last and most promising presidential campaign.

          Support for the 78-year-old leader of the National Front party is much higher today, according to opinion polls, than it was before the presidential election in 2002 when Le Pen achieved his best result, coming second. Has his moment finally come? Can he win? “They tell me I’m a bit like a doctor prospering from the illnesses of his patients,” said Le Pen at his home on a hill overlooking Paris. “The greater the crisis, the more people come to me. And the crisis is very great at the moment.”

          In his study are statues of Joan of Arc. An umbrella stand is full of antique swords. The curiosity that dominates the room, however, are a large pair of binoculars trained on Paris: through them Le Pen saw red pinpricks in 2005 when youths set ablaze immigrant suburbs in riots that have contributed to what he calls the “Le Pen-isation” of French thinking.

          This is evident, says Le Pen, in the way that Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister and centre-right presidential candidate, has been poaching in the National Front’s electoral pond with his talk about “thugs” running amok in the suburbs and his crackdown on illegal African immigrants.

          “But people will always prefer the original to the copy,” said Le Pen, who advocates closing France’s borders to all immigrants except those with jobs. “I have been giving warnings for several decades. They called me an extremist. But I was right all along. People know that. That is why they will vote for me.”

          Le Pen caused outrage by declaring that there were too many black players in the national football team. But he was at pains last week to emphasise that he is no racist: one of the more curious developments of the campaign has been his flirtation with Dieudonné, a virulently anti-semitic black comedian.

          “I am a French patriot, not a xenophobe,” said Le Pen. “I want peacefully to reunite the maximum number of French people of all origins. Some from immigrant backgrounds can be an asset if they are integrated through their work and their will to link their destiny to that of our country. But I don’t want France to serve just as an inn or brothel to all of the populations of the world who want to come here.”

          Marine, his daughter, has been trying to soften the party’s anti-immigrant image with an election poster pitched at Arab and black voters attacking successive governments’ failed integration policies. One poster shows a young black woman with a bare midriff giving a thumbs-down sign under the slogan “Right, left, they have broken everything”.

          The campaign is beginning to bear fruit, it seems, and Le Pen has been endorsed by Ahmed Moualek, whose website The Suburbs Speak, highlights the fact that Sarkozy is one quarter Jewish. Le Pen claimed that many north Africans supported him, particularly “those who work, who have a family, who put their children in school and who want a future here”.

          Polls showed that support for Le Pen has climbed to 15%, compared with barely 10% in the same period in 2002: that year he beat Lionel Jospin, the Socialist candidate, to become Jacques Chirac’s opponent in a second round run-off, a shock to an out-of-touch political establishment.

          It forced the Socialists to “hold their noses” and vote for Chirac to keep out a figure who called the gas chambers “merely a detail” of history and who will go on trial this year for saying that “the German occupation was not particularly inhumane”.

          Chirac had done nothing, said Le Pen, to stop France’s decline to “a pre-bankruptcy state with colossal debt, high unemployment and insecurity”. And the two main presidential rivals of Le Pen were presenting themselves as “young political virgins” when he was the only genuine anti-establishment figure. Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate, he noted, had worked as a minister under President François Mitterrand. “She did not just emerge from Jupiter’s thigh,” he chuckled, referring to a myth describing the birth of Bacchus, the god of wine.

          Sarkozy, to be crowned next Sunday as the ruling centre-right party’s candidate, was proclaiming himself as a symbol of “rupture” with the past although he had been a senior member of government for years.

          A candidate in every presidential election since 1974, Le Pen is hoping to exploit divisions in the centre-right — just as he exploited fractures on the left in 2002 — to qualify for a place in a run-off against Royal on May 6.

          It will not be easy: the polls give Sarkozy about 32% in the first round. His margin could be cut if another centre-right figure such as Michèle Alliot-Marie, the defence minister, Dominique de Villepin, the prime minister, or even Chirac were to enter the race as an independent.

          Were Le Pen to win a place in the run-off he would prefer an opponent other than Royal, saying, “It is harder against a woman than a man.” At the same time, never having governed was an asset in a country so disenchanted with its elite. “I am the figurehead of opposition to them,” said Le Pen. “How can anyone expect them to do better tomorrow what they could not — or would not — do yesterday?”

          Late call to power for bogeyman Le Pen


          • #6

            If the problem of racism in American discourse is typified by the N-word outburst of comedian Michael Richards followed by his abject apology, the French variant is altogether more toxic. The latest outrage came from second-string TV personality and self-appointed social commentator Pascal Sevran, whose recently published book included the obscenely racist idea that the "black [penis] is responsible for famine in Africa." Elaborating in a newspaper interview, Sevran said, "Africa is dying from all the children born there" to parents supposedly too sexually undisciplined or dumb to realize they could not feed them all. The answer to the problem? "We need sterilize half the planet," Sevran emphatically replied. Known as an relentless attention-seeker, the defiant Sevran drew only limited fire for his comments, and a public rebuke from his public television employer — though not the cancellation of his Sunday program that many demanded. Appalled at the light punishment, the government of Niger (itself a victim of recent famines) announced it would file libel charges against Sevran in French courts.

            Sevran's prurient opinions are but the latest addition to the growing racist chatter in the French mainstream. A month earlier, a Socialist political kingpin in the Montpellier region sparked fury — and possible expulsion from the party — by lamenting that France's national soccer team fielded "9 blacks out of 11" starting players. "I'm ashamed of this country," in which "the whites are lousy," he groused, and would soon be fielding teams "where all 11 players are black." That echoed a comment a year earlier by philosopher Alain Finkelkraut, who — seeking to explain the 2005 rioting by youths descended from immigrants in France's suburbs — made allusion to France's "white-black-Arab" soccer side that won the 1998 World Cup and became an icon of French social integration. " Today, [the team is] black-black-black, and it's the laughingstock of Europe," Finkelkraut complained.

            Even some black Frenchmen have joined the bigoted chorus: In November, the black comic known as Dieudonné made a conspicuous appearance at the annual congress of Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front party — much to the pleasure of extreme-rightists looking to lose their racist stigma without changing their xenophobic positions. For the last two years, the self-described leftist Dieudonné had outdone even Le Pen in Jew-baiting, delivering a series of brazenly anti-Semitic remarks, belittling the Holocaust and depicting Jews as racist persecutors of blacks and Arabs. Though that earned him general condemnation, Dieudonné's high-profile fraternizing with a party treated as a pariah by most French minorities and voters indicated that he, too, was looking for a more effective manner to promote his divisive positions. His flirtation with Le Pen found support from Ahmed Moualek, a blogger and influential voice from France's blighted suburban housing projects who said he'd rather debate with "an intelligent racist than with a stupid anti-racist," noting that while Le Pen's "language can at times shock people, he's an honest man."

            The rising torrent of racist language and publicly expressed racist attitudes may be a sign less that racism is spreading, than that the boundaries of mainstream tolerance are changing. As in the U.S., France has seen an increase in provocative shock content in entertainment and commentary, whether for comic effect or political impact. Interior Minister and presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy drew protests when he used a racially loaded term to denounce young men rioting in the suburbs last year — an outcry that also coincided with his jump in polls. The street patois of those ethnically diverse projects, meanwhile, has also long contained its own racially aggressive "shock" element, with the rejoinder "ta race" (your race) a kind of generic, all-purpose slight. Clearly, the political "filter" in the U.S. public square that prompts a Michael Richards or a Mel Gibson to grovel apologetically following publicly recorded racial insults is considerably less developed in France. Indeed, last year's riots were a stark reminder of how poorly France has done in integrating its diversity, remaining locked in an officially "color-blind" national ideology that often simply avoids confronting the problems of racial inequality. France counts no blacks or Arabs as members of parliament, and its corporate boardrooms don't fare much better.

            France rejects affirmative action as incompatible with its republican ideals of color-blind equality for all citizens. Nice in theory, but that's not working in practice: discrimination continues, inequality is rife, and notions of color-blindness don't square with the rising chorus of racially loaded commentary. Color-blindness may also function to keep France blind to racial discrimination and inequality, but the rising tide of anger in the projects and racist chatter in the mainstream suggests that the French may soon have no choice but to openly confront what color-blindness prefers not to see.


            • #7
              Weel Thats Not Rasism, When We Said In Algeria That Some People Use There Balls + Penis As A Brain.....:d
              A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
              By: George Bernard Shaw


              • #8
                I don't think Le Pen will make the same impact as last time, not least because Parti Socialiste voters will be less inclined to split the vote by going for the Trotskyists. It'll be Sego vs Sarko in the last round, for better or worse.



                • #9
                  PARIS, France (Reuters) -- The French Socialist party threw out one of its leading members on Saturday for having said there were too many black players in the national soccer team, adding to the woes of its presidential candidate Segolene Royal.

                  Georges Freches, president of the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south and a founding member of the party, is a supporter of Royal.

                  She has backed his expulsion from the party but it comes at a bad time for her as she faces criticism for a series of gaffes on foreign policy and domestic issues.

                  The decision was made at a meeting of members of a commission set up to resolve internal party disputes.

                  "If he had not said what he said, we would all ... be in a much more agreeable situation," said Patrick Mennucci, deputy director of Royal's campaign.

                  "The situation is very unpleasant and the Socialist Party cannot continue to have someone who makes comments of this sort in its ranks."

                  In November, Freches was reported complaining at a local political meeting that nine out of the eleven members of the national soccer team were black.

                  "I am ashamed for this country. Soon there will be eleven blacks," the Midi libre newspaper quoted him as saying.

                  Freches was also fined 15,000 euros ($19,480) by a French court on Thursday for having called Algerians who fought alongside the French in Algeria's war of independence "sub-human".

                  He had already been suspended from some party functions after making those comments last year and faced up to six months in jail as well as a fine for "abuse of a group of people because of their ethnic, racial or religious affiliations".

                  Royal loses key French ally


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by voltaire View Post

                    ....It'll be Sego vs Sarko in the last round, for better or worse.


                    Ségolène Royal, French presidential candidate of the Socialist party, yesterday announced that she is changing her pre-election strategy. Just two months ago, she was the absolute favorite in the competition. Polling shows that she is now falling behind her main rival Nicolas Sarkozy by 10 percent already. In the two last months before the presidential election, the situation might change even stronger: what if France’s next president will be not Sarkozy, and not Royal, but a third little-known candidate:

                    “Monsieur, would you please switch over to another channel? The TV is spoiling my appetite,” a lady smiles politely to a waiter in a café in Paris. The TV is showing Ségolène Royal’s speech at a rally.

                    “Madame, would you please take a seat at another table, far from the TV. The matter is that other channels usually show the Interior Minister. But we don’t want to frighten our customers like that,” says the waiter sarcastically.

                    The current French pre-election campaign is the struggle of two aversions. One half of France hates Nicolas Sarkozy, another can’t stand Ségolène Royal.

                    “We haven’t had so tense elections for a long time. In 2002, many voters did not care who wins: the right or the left. Now, almost no one is indifferent,” political experts say.

                    Royal has been out of luck recently: she loses voters’ support more and more. All troubles began with her own family first. Royal’s main promoter to presidency was her common-law spouse, Socialist party leader François Hollande. The Socialists’ nerve center, devoid of charisma, he realized he cannot win the presidential election, or even the nomination for presidency in his own party. Thus, he put the stakes on beautiful Royal, the mother of his four children. It went smoothly at first, but then the pre-election family team broke up. Ill-wishers claim that fracas have been shaking the Socialist camp for a few months already. A few weeks ago, prominent Socialist Arnaud Montebourg joked that "Ségolène Royal has only one flaw: It's her partner". François Hollande immediately ousted Montebourg. Another one to flee the Socialist camp was Royal’s top economic advisor Eric Besson: he disagreed with Hollande on Royal’s economic policy program.

                    Back in December, Royal was ahead of Sarkozy (on the condition they would have met in the election’s second round) 55 percent against 45 percent. Now, the situation is right the reverse. Failure in the race made Royal think of changing the campaign radically. She promised yesterday to announce already this week a large-scale reshuffle in her camp. Sarkozy, while visiting La Reunion island, responded with a malicious jest: “She doesn’t need to change anything. If you cannot manage your family, then you cannot rule France.”

                    Headquarters of the Socialist party on Solferino street is a small temple to Ségolène Royal. There is a huge display by the entrance, right on the street, which shows Royal’s last speech 24 hours a day. There are roses everywhere inside (rose is the Socialists’ symbol), and posters with Royal’s portrait.

                    The Socialist camp members keep saying they do not believe the polls, and will disregard them. They have, indeed, a very strong argument, - the 2002 election. Back then, public opinion experts were sure that Jacques Chirac of the right and Lionel Jospin of the left will meet in the second round. Not a single poll gave the second place to Jean Marie le Pen, leader of the ultra-right National Front.

                    “It seems unimaginable now that the Socialists will fail,” said independent political expert Nicolas Baverez. “France still remembers the catastrophe of April 21, 2002. No one went to vote then, thinking that Chirac and Jospin were passing anyway, and that the real election would be in the second round. Everything is different now. The Socialists are getting more active.”

                    Another reason not to believe the polls is the French electoral system. Citizens of France do not become voters automatically. It is necessary to come to a voting station and sign up in advance. Thus, only people of active citizenship become voters. On the contrary, all citizens, no matter whether they have signed up or not, take part in telephone polling.

                    So far the descendants of immigrants, residents of troubled suburbs, kept away from elections. However, the success of nationalist Jean Marie le Pen at last elections mobilized them too. In recent months, great number of first-generation French citizens signed up for voting.

                    “We remember November 2005, the riots in the suburbs. Do you remember what it began with? With the Interior Minister’s provocation, who called all of us ‘rubbish’,” says Abudi, young resident of Marseille, of Algerian origin. He works as an ‘animator’, member of a social service dealing with the socialization of immigrants’ children, organizing free hobby groups and clubs for them. He admits that his friends never forgave Sarkozy for those words. “We are now going from door to door, urging young people and their parents to vote. Naturally, we do not tell them who they should vote for,” says Abudi.

                    It is not a secret who the suburbs might vote for. Royal addressed perhaps the most passionate part of her recent campaign speech.

                    “I will love your children just like I love my own ones! I will take care of disadvantaged youths like I take care of my family,” she was saying tear-eyed. They say many immigrant women cried in front of TVs.

                    The fall in Royal’s popularity might be explained by the fact that journalists changed their attitude to her. Last year, they were enchanted and did not pay attention to mistakes. Now, however, their tone became very critical. Last week, TF1 channel’s daily news presenter Jean-Pierre Pernaut called Royal’s campaign ‘confused and ill-managed’, but Sarkozy’s actions ‘calm and reasonable’. TF1 is obviously on the right, but such frankness became scandalous. Only left-wing Libération supports Royal, while Le Figaro newspaper and Paris Match magazine openly support Sarkozy.

                    Unfriendly press is also playing against Royal by giving special attention to the third presidential candidate, centrist François Bayrou. His photographs are published next to those of the two favorites, while other candidates are often mentioned just in one line. Polls showing that Bayrou’s popularity is growing are being published everywhere. Le Figaro claims that it is Bayrou’s economic program that French voters trust most. Sarkozy has the second place, and Royal – the third. By the way, the centrist, unlike his rivals, has not yet presented his economic program.

                    “The basis of Bayrou’s political platform is the departure from the out-dated division into the right and the left. He will unite France,” said Hervé Morin, head of UDF faction in Parliament (UDF is Bayrou’s party).

                    According to polls, Bayrou is rapidly taking supporters away from Royal. A month ago, she had 29 percent, against his 11 percent. Now it is 26 percent against 14 percent. Bayrou is already ahead of Jean Marie le Pen, and has the third place in the list of candidates.

                    “Bayrou is like David who fights against two Goliaths,” says political expert Nicolas Baverez, “he criticizes Sarkozy and Royal, earning points for himself. Meanwhile, no one criticizes him. They are busy with each other. Bayrou earns most on Royal’s mistakes.”

                    “Can he come ahead of her, and get into the second round?”

                    “If she crashes completely.”

                    UDF faction has a different opinion. Hervé Morin uses statistical data to assert the success of his party’s leader.

                    “There are two pre-election campaign laws in France. First law: the one who was the favorite one year before election, was never elected president. François Miterrand was to win in 1974. Yet, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing won. In 1981, Michel Rocard lost to François Mitterrand. In 1988, Jacques Chirac was the favorite, but Mitterrand managed to be re-elected. In 1995, everyone staked on Édouard Balladur, but Chirac became the president. And in 2002, everyone was sure that Jospin would win, but he didn’t even make it to the second round. Second law: the candidate whose rating is falling cannot change the trend and keeps falling. On the contrary, the one who goes up, wins. It means that Sarkozy and Bayrou will make their way into the second round, and on May 6 François Bayrou will become the new president.

                    Hervé Morin smiles. Apparently, he himself finds his daring forecast funny. However, he can afford it: his candidate is not hated by anyone, unlike the race’s two leaders.

                    Bayrou takes advantage of Royal’s weakness to draw over the Socialists. For instance, he announced yesterday that if he becomes president, he will appoint a Socialist as prime minister. However, the fate of the Élysée Palace now depends not on him, and not even on Sarkozy, but on how much Royal falls. And on whether she crashes after falling.


                    • #11
                      'Third man' emerges in presidential race

                      He's a gentleman farmer known as the horse-whisperer, a fervent Catholic who raises thoroughbred mares and writes historical biographies, posing for photographs on his tractor to appear close to the people.

                      But the centrist François Bayrou, who has been repeatedly dismissed as too boring to win over France, emerged this week as the presidential election's dark horse, a "third man" to challenge the standoff between the left's Ségolène Royal and the right's Nicolas Sarkozy.

                      Two shock polls have given Mr Bayrou, 55, his highest ratings yet. In one survey, the former Latin teacher and education minister, leader of his party since 1998, polled 16% in the first round, overtaking the far right's Jean-Marie Le Pen. Another survey suggested that if he made it into the second round in May, Mr Bayrou would be elected president, beating Mr Sarkozy or Ms Royal. He is already doing much better than he did in 2002, when he took 7% of the first-round vote. In recent weeks, 74% of French voters have deemed him the most credible candidate.

                      He has vowed to end the old left-right battles in France and "explode the glass wall that separates the two clans", suggesting an Italian or German-style ruling coalition. The Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi***, has supported his centrist friend who he says has "a typical simplicity of the provinces".

                      Born near the Catholic pilgrimage town of Lourdes, the devout Mr Bayrou was once described by the senator Charles Pasqua as "the only politician who assured me that the Virgin Mary appeared to him and predicted he would be president of the republic". Married at 20 and with six children and 11 grandchildren, the regular churchgoer is nonetheless a staunch defender of the secular state. A biographer of the French king Henry IV, he has recently succumbed to the trend for presidential candidates to talk about the suffering of their youth, describing how he overcame a childhood stutter which gave him the nickname "Shakes" at school because he couldn't pronounce Shakespeare.

                      Mr Bayrou has benefited from the slip-ups and infighting of Socialist Ms Royal's campaign, winning over hesitant voters on the left. Although his party, the UDF, is nominally allied with the ruling centre-right, he is also one of the sharpest critics of the rightwing candidate of the UMP party, Mr Sarkozy, attacking his friendships with media owners and comparing him to Italy's Silvio Berlusconi. He has won over conservative voters who fear Mr Sarkozy is reaching too far towards the extreme right of Mr Le Pen.

                      In a campaign where the two main candidates have avoided personally laying into each other, Mr Bayrou has emerged as a quietly spoken attack-dog. "I believe I will be elected president of France," he recently told French TV, later explaining that "adding up the disappointment caused by both candidates, believe me, that amounts to a lot of people".

                      Frédéric Dabi of pollsters Ifop called him a "receptacle" for those let down by the main candidates' campaigns.

                      Yesterday, both the Sarkozy and Royal camps attacked Mr Bayrou. One Socialist called him the "Che Guevara of the extreme centre". François Fillon, a possible future prime minister if Mr Sarkozy wins, said he represented a "dead end".

                      In 2002, the extreme right created a political earthquake when Mr Le Pen knocked out the Socialists in the first round. This time, many politicians claim voters want to stop this happening again and will stick to the two main candidates. But Mr Le Pen has about 11-13% in the polls and still sees himself as the "third man".

                      Farmer cast as dark horse of French polls

                      ***The EX-Italian prime minister


                      • #12
                        The verdict is quasi-universal on the French left: Ségolène Royal - the Socialist Party's presidential candidate, the first female candidate nominated by a major party, and the "French Hillary" as she is called - is heading for a disaster.

                        Royal's stagnation in the opinion polls since the campaign officially opened two months ago has given way to a sharp decline: this week, multiple polls showed that the right-wing candidate, hard-line law-and-order Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, has now opened up a substantial lead of 10 points over his Socialist adversary. In fact, the only good news for the Socialists recently is that the campaign of anti-globalization leader José Bové as the candidate of the "left of the left" has failed to take off in the polls, hardly climbing above 2%. Moreover, Bové has only collected half of the 500 sponsoring signatures he needs from France's 35,000 mayors to be given a place on the April ballot (and with less than four weeks to go until they must be submitted, he may not get them.)

                        What explains the Socialist candidate's decline in the polls? Ten days ago, Ségolène Royal unveiled her new campaign platform designed to jump-start her sagging campaign: her "100 Propositions" (a notion borrowed from the late Socialist President Francois Mitterrand's "110 Propositions" in his winning 1981 campaign) which she proposed as a "Presidential Contract" with the French electorate. Ségolène presented her "Contract" at rally of 8,000 Socialist Party activists bussed to a Paris suburb and carefully chosen to applaud every comma in her endless, two-hour speech. (She even chose the same man who had run the kick-off rally for Mitterrand's '81 campaign to stage-manage what was billed as her "comeback")

                        Well, Ségolène's speech (nationally televised on the French equivalent of C-SPAN may have drawn cheers from the hand-picked audience of "Royalists" in the meeting hall - but with the electorate, it was a dud. Instead of boosting her standing in the polls, as it had been intended to do, post-speech opinion surveys showed it had actually prompted her further decline.

                        Her "100 Propositions" turned out to be a mix of expensive promises to poll-chosen slices of the electorate (something for the young, something for the elderly, something for the teachers, and the like) which voters know quite well there is no money in the national treasury (groaning under a crushing national debt) to pay for. She reiterated some of her Right-Lite law-and-order proposals, like putting the military in charge of juvenile delinquents, and - as an avowed admirer of Tony Blair - enunciated a number of Blairite, Third Way, pro-capitalist themes, as when she declared that "We need to reconcile the French with business" (with tens of thousands of French workers being laid off or fired each month after plant-closings by rich French-based multinationals who move their factories to low-wage countries, that was a discordant note to strike with the left electorate.) And the rest of her speech was a lot of pretty but vague rhetoric cooked up by her ghost-writers and her ad-agency pals to con various constituencies.

                        For example, even though the ghetto riots that set cities across France afire in October-November 2005 underscored the exclusion of Franco-Arab and black youth from economy and society and created a national crisis, the word "banlieux" ("suburbs," where the ghettos are located, and which is the French code word for minority neighborhoods) was absent from her speech. And so was any real program to address the needs of the ghettos - in which there was a major, and successful, voter registration drive in the wake of the riots.

                        I asked Louis-Georges Tin about Ségolène's speech and her "100 Propositions" - he's a black academic and author (originally from the French overseas territory of the Antilles) and a rising star of the emerging black movement for equality in France who, in the wake of the ghetto riots, founded the first national organization of French blacks, the CRAN (National Council of Black Associations, representing some 150 local and ethnic organizations). Tin's verdict was devastating: "In Ségolène Royal's speech there were a few 'signs' designed to satisfy blacks and Franco-Arabs: she quoted Frantz Fanon and the mulatto woman Solitude [an early 19th century military commander of a slave revolt against French rule in Guadeloupe], both figures of resistance to colonialism, which was, well, nice. But, more than these 'signs,' we want commitments. One cannot make a policy with only 'signs,' allusions, and winks - and we're still waiting for a concrete policy from Ségolène."

                        Moreover, Tin told me, "we note that not a single candidate wants to openly and explicitly address the blacks and Franco-Arabs of the ghettos, and up until now there has been a lot of abstentionism by them on election day. But a poll we at CRAN had taken by the polling institute Sofres showed that there are 2 million blacks of voting age - and in 2002, [the neo-fascist Jean-Marie] Le Pen beat the Socialist presidential candidate for a place in the run-off by only 200,000 votes. That ought to make Ségolène and the other candidates think about us more seriously - but so far it hasn't."

                        A few days after her "Presidential Contract" speech, Ségolène's credibility received a body blow when the Socialist Party's national secretary for economic issues, Eric Besson, resigned that post. Besson was the man in charge of figuring out how much the expensive promises in Ségolène's "100 Propositions" would cost, and how to pay for them.

                        Besson, who was also a Socialist député, or member of parliament, had had what the Socialist Party's media machine claimed was a "personal dispute" with Ségolène's domestic partner and the father of her children, the Socialist Party's First Secretary - and thus its boss - Francois Hollande. But Besson's resignation as the Socialist's chief economic expert was widely interpreted as a sign that he refused to say that Ségolène's program would cost French taxpayers what her campaign wanted to claim it did (in other words, he wouldn't cook the books on her program to make it sound cheaper.)

                        Ségolène and her campaign didn't take this latest in an unappetizing series of very public blunders very well, and (Besson later claimed) began spreading unfounded rumors about marital difficulties between Besson and his wife to explain his resignation. This incensed Besson - who this week got his revenge when called a press conference to noisily announce that he was resigning from his Socialist Party membership, withdrawing from his re-election campaign as a député to return to the private sector, denounce the "incoherence of the themes, discourse, and propositions" of Ségolène's "incompetent" campaign, underscore that the cost of the program put forward by Ségolène - like the programs of "all the candidates and parties" - was "under-estimated," and (the final blow) made it clear he could well decide eventually to support a candidate other than Ségolène. He even said nice things about Nicolas Sarkozy, the dangerously demagogic conservative presidential candidate and the man the left loves to hate. Ouch!


                        • #13

                          The campaign took another big hit today with an op-ed piece in the daily Libération, signed by 30 high-ranking civil servants, grouping themselves under the name "Spartacus" and describing themselves as "Socialists and French of the left," declaring bluntly that, "We believe that the incoherent and erratic candidate of the Socialist Party is leading the French left to an inexorable defeat" - and declaring that "the only useful vote to block Nicolas Sarkozy" is a vote for the centrist candidate Francois Bayrou, "who alone can beat the conservative candidate." Indeed, one of the reasons for Sarkozy's new big lead over Ségolène in this week's polls is the continued rise of Bayrou, whose percentage of the April 22 vote in the opinion polls has just risen to 16% - ten points more than he received in the 2002 presidential race. Nearly all of Bayrou's new support has come from disillusioned Socialists and the left electorate, which Bayrou has been aggressively courting - earlier this week, he declared that, if elected president, he would probably appoint a prime minister from the left (in the occurrence, former Socialist Minister of the Economy Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who, as head of their party's right wing, unsuccessfully fought Segolene for the Socialists' presidential nomination.)

                          With all of this going on, even the tepidly-left Nouvel Observateur, France's largest-circulation newsweekly - which had played a major role in boosting Ségolène for the Socialist Party's nomination with a series of uncritical cover-story puff pieces - has been forced to concede that the "Royalists'" elitist campaign is slaloming downward. In an article that hit the newsstands today entitled "Ségo's Blunders," the Nouvel Obs (as it is colloquially referred to) reported: "The panic that has taken hold of the Socialist Party's elected officials translates very well the climate that reigns in the party - something between anger and dismay at the campaign's disorganization, its improvised air, its lack of transparency, its amateurism. For nearly a month the same criticisms have been pummeling the candidate and her entourage. For example, at the end of January, one of the pillars of her campaign told Ségolène right to her face: 'There are three people I can never get on the phone: your chief-of-staff and your two campaign managers!'" Even the telephone number of her campaign headquarters is unlisted and supposed to be kept secret. And, the magazine declared, without a total overhaul of her campaign, "her failure is assured."

                          Meanwhile, "Sarko," her right-wing opponent, has been enrolling under his banner well-known figures of the traditional cultural left: in the last few weeks he's won the very public support of the Communist actor Roger Hanin - former Socialist President Mitterrand's brother-in-law and intimate friend, and a cinema star in France since the 1950s who today is more popular than ever for his title role in the long-running TV cop series "Commissaire Novaro," now in its 16th year; of the equally popular Algerian-born pied noir singer Enrico Macias, with hit records since the 1960s, and a Jew who can sing of Algeria in Arabic (making him a favorite of the older Franco-Arab generations) - Macias also for years has been a fixture of the anti-racist movement and left street demonstrations; and of the black hip-hop recording artist (and TV fixture) Doc Gyneco. Being on the left and for Sarkozy is, with cover like these celebs, becoming more and more respectable. (At the same time, Sarko - noted for his pro-Israel positions - has garnered the endorsements of the even more ardently pro-Israeli "Nouveaux Philosophes" André Glucksman and Pascal Bruckner, while another of their number - Alain Finkielkraut - has incessantly banged away at Ségolène.)

                          Ségolène Royal is set to announce a campaign shakeup today, with enlarged roles for her former opponents for the Socialists' nomination, Strauss-Kahn and former Mitterrand Prime Minister Laurent Fabius - but does anybody care about these "inside-baseball" maneuvers? Will they stop her free-fall in the polls? In a much-watched TV appearance on February 19, Ségolène tried tacking a bit to her left. But with only eight weeks to go until the voting begins, may it not be too late? And, given her centrist political history, will anyone believe her mild-left facelift? Stay tuned...


                          • #14
                            Fernand Trigano stood beside a rack of $8 jeans and watched French presidential candidate Francois Bayrou work a street market in an immigrant suburb of Paris, shaking hands over baskets of dried fish, stacks of flat bread and mannequins modeling head scarves. Assalaamu alaikum!” shouted a young man in a leather jacket, offering the traditional Muslim greeting “Peace be upon you.” Salaam alaikum, replied Bayrou, the candidate from the centrist Union for French Democracy party now running third in opinion polls before the April 22 presidential election.

                            “I’m impressed,” said Trigano, a 60-year-old resident of this suburb of high-rise apartments on the Seine River north-west of Paris. “He’s bold. Not every candidate would dare to come with hardly any bodyguards. Politicians think it’s dangerous here. He came to listen to what suburban people have to say. I think that’s great.” Bayrou’s campaign stroll through the ethnic mixing bowl of Mantes-la-Jolie represents a dramatic shift in France’s stodgy, elitist political system. Sixteen months after immigrant neighbourhoods exploded in the country’s worst civil unrest in nearly half a century, the suburbs are emerging for the first time as a potent force in the presidential campaign.

                            Immigrant citizens and their first-generation French children have registered to vote in unprecedented numbers, forcing politicians to address a potential voter pool previously written off as politically insignificant.

                            Thousands of small, vocal political action groups representing Africans, Arabs and young people have sprung up in suburbs across the country, fledgling challengers to the political monopolies of unions and other establishment organisations. Grass-roots blogs and Web sites are scrutinising candidate records, becoming sassy and candid alternatives to the nation’s mainstream news media.

                            “The suburban vote is very important,” Bayrou, a three-time presidential contender, said in an interview after surprising commuters when he and his media entourage crammed onto a train for the 25-minute ride from Paris to Mantes la Jolie. “I’m not naturally a candidate of the suburbs, my constituency historically is rural – but I am here.” The suburban violence that stunned the nation and besmirched France’s image across the globe not only fueled greater political activism in the immigrant neighbourhoods but also has forced presidential candidates to confront issues previously considered politically taboo: racial, ethnic and religious discrimination.

                            A recent survey commissioned by a black advocacy group, the Representative Council of Black Associations, and conducted by the TNS-Sofres polling firm, found that 61 per cent of blacks polled said they are victimised by discrimination on a daily basis. France has no blacks in its legislative National Assembly other than the 10 representatives from its overseas departments that are predominantly black.

                            Even Jean-Marie Le Pen, the candidate of the far-right National Front party who shocked France in 2002 by receiving the second-highest number of votes in the presidential election after campaigning with messages considered racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic, is trying to soften his hard-line reputation with campaign posters and advertisements that include an attractive young black woman, in an overt appeal to all racial groups.

                            “Jean-Marie Le Pen can’t go to the suburbs, because if two or three 12-year-olds decide to spit on him, his visit will be ruined,” Marine Le Pen, the candidate’s daughter and party vice president, said at a recent meeting with foreign journalists. “It’s not a big deal, because they hear our message like any other French people.” In contrast to the United States, France has concentrated its immigrant and poor populations in the suburbs rather than the inner cities.

                            Suburban issues have dominated the presidential campaign of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, candidate of the ruling center-right Union for a Popular Movement party. Many critics blame him for inflaming the suburbs during the fall 2005 violence when he referred to some youths as “scum” that should be washed out of the neighbourhoods.

                            He has since tried to ameliorate the anger and has appointed an Algerian-born Muslim, Abderrahmane Dahmane, to the position of “national secretary in charge of relations with associations involved in French immigration issues.” But Sarkozy is not expected to draw many votes among immigrants in the suburbs, according to most opinion polls and political analysts. Dahmane tries to play down the importance of the populace Sarkozy has asked him to oversee: “These communities don’t vote a lot; they talk a lot but they don’t vote,” he said.

                            That could change this year. Voter registration has skyrocketed in every French demographic group and nearly every district – urban, suburban and rural. Across the country, voter registration is up nearly 50 per cent over the last presidential election in 2002, according to preliminary figures. In some localities, the number of new voters increased more than 300 per cent, according to tallies by the daily newspaper Le Monde.

                            Analysts and political activists say the increase in voter registration was the result of two events that shocked the country: the 2005 suburban violence and Le Pen’s second-place showing in the last election. That is why on a recent chilly winter afternoon, Denis Laronche, a 46-year-old white accountant who lives in the northern suburb of Bondy, stood sentry outside the turnstiles of the commuter train station shoving leaflets for Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal in the hand of a young black man hunched in a black hoodie.

                            “I’m here out of guilt,” said Laronche, who said he registered to vote for the first time in his life for this election. “All the people who didn’t vote in 2002 feel guilty,” he add, stretching his arm toward an Indian woman in a gold-and-brown sari.

                            But many of the newly registered voters are more like Sareed Balit, a 34-year-old Algerian immigrant, who stood in a street market a few steps from the train station. Balit, who became a French citizen three years ago, signed up to vote in December after seeing television ads featuring rapper Joey Star urging suburban young people to register. “I don’t know if I’m going to vote for the left or the right,” Balit said as he handed a customer in a head scarf change for a package of muffins.


                            • #15
                              · Sarkozy in favour of ethnicity statistics

                              · 56% of black people say they suffer discrimination

                              A new political row broke out in the French presidential election race yesterday as it emerged that the two leading candidates have sharply differing views on how to deal with the growing problem of racism.

                              For months, both the Socialist Ségolène Royal and the rightwing interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, have been considering whether to break one of France's biggest taboos and begin officially counting the number of people belonging to ethnic minorities in France. Classifying people by their ethnicity is illegal in France - the nation of "liberty, equality, fraternity" considers all people should be equally French with no differentiation. Unlike in Britain, no direct census questions can be asked that would determine the exact ethnic, racial or religious makeup of society. Without statistics, some minority groups argue that racism and discrimination are being swept under the carpet.

                              France's umbrella organisation for black groups, Cran, this week repeated demands that France begin collecting statistics. It polled the candidates' views and found Mr Sarkozy was in favour of counting ethnic groups, along with several other candidates. Ms Royal was the only one against.

                              Patrick Lozès, head of Cran, told the Guardian: "The fact that most candidates are in favour of collecting these statistics is a sea change in France. Three years ago this was completely taboo. Ségolène Royal was clear about her reasons for opposing it: she feared information could be used to keep records on individuals."

                              The poll prompted 40 academics and campaigners to publish a petition in yesterday's daily Libération in protest at "ethnic statistics", warning they could lead to "confrontation" between groups.

                              Race is a key election issue as non-white people complain of unfair stop-and-searches by heavy-handed police, and many say they are excluded from housing and employment. Community workers on run-down, ethnically mixed housing estates warn nothing has been done to stop racist discrimination despite the worst riots in nearly 40 years in 2005.

                              Non-white graduates with top-class degrees complain that CVs go unanswered because of the colour of their skin or non-French surname. The government has since moved to ban the requirement for a photo on CV applications, introducing the principle of "anonymous CVs" but the law has not yet come into effect.

                              This month, the umbrella group for black associations published the first opinion poll in France asking people about race.

                              In all, 56% of black people said they suffered racial discrimination in their everyday lives, and 37% said the discrimination had got worse in the past year. Louis-Georges Tin, the group's spokesman said "Being black [in France] is a social handicap."

                              Mr Sarkozy, known for his tough stance on immigration, has recently been engaged in a slanging match over race with the black French footballer Lilian Thuram. The player has repeatedly said Mr Sarkozy told him after the 2005 riots: "It's the blacks and Arabs who create problems in the suburbs." Mr Sarkozy has denied racism, hiring another footballer to advise him on diversity.

                              Ms Royal has said she wants to be president of a "mixed-race" France, proposing anti-racism measures such as forcing companies to reassess their recruitment policies. But last month the Socialist party was forced to expel one of its leading members - Gêorges Freche, president of the Languedoc-Roussillon region - who complained there were too many black players in the French national football team.

                              French presidential candidates divided over race census


                              Unconfigured Ad Widget