Tuesday 22 December 2009

A Top 12 of the Noughties in Paris, Part Three

Le Pen Makes it Through to the Presidential Run Off (2002)
On the 21st April, 2002, 4,804, 772 people in France voted for an extreme right wing candidate in the Presidential elections. This represented 16.86% of the total vote and was enough to see Jean-Marie Le Pen knock the Socialist representative, Lionel Jopsin, into third place and out of the race.

The strange thing is that no-one saw it coming. The day before the vote, surveys had put the figure at 14%, well behind the Socialists, but this just highlighted another paradox in French society. Lots of people vote for the Front National, but nobody admits to doing so!

As is always the case, the result was announced immediately after the closing of the polling stations, at 8pm on a Sunday evening. I remember the faces of shock and surprise, and a moment of confusion before it became clear that Le Pen would continue into the second round of voting. People took to the streets to protest, but against what exactly was not entirely clear.

With the Front National voters being so invisible, protesters started looking for other people to blame. On the marches I attended over the two week period until the second round, the targets were varied. The favourite was probably the media, accused of building a climate of fear in the nation. In reality though, this had been a democratic vote, and the French were looking at themselves in the mirror.

On the 1st May, two million people across France took to the streets to protest, a large number of whom were gathered in Paris. The FN party scores traditionally low figures in the capital (the hotspots are more in the North, South and East of the country), but even in Paris the party had claimed almost 10% of the vote. Who were these voters? Our neighbours? People shopping at our local supermarkets? The important thing was not to know who they were, but why they had chosen to vote for this particular party.

The second round took place on May 5th, and Jacques Chirac won a fresh mandate with a predictably large majority. Nevertheless, despite the protests and indignation, the vote for Jean-Marie Le Pen sneaked up to 5.5 million people, or roughly 18% of the vote. There had been a fundamental shift in the French political world and in French society, and the issues have left lasting scars today. There is almost a sense of appeasement to this population, and Sarkozy won his own election in 2007 by basing his campaign around security issues.

The new decade begins with ongoing attempts to launch a debate around “l’identité nationale”. The French are still struggling to define what makes them ‘French’, and continuing to fool themselves that it is an important topic in today’s multi-cultural society. Thankfully though, recent results for the Front National have been much lower, and Jean-Marie Le Pen himself will finally retire in 2010!


Tim said...

A pivotal moment in France's recent history and quite an unreal event to witness as it unfolded on live TV. I just found it incredible how many left-wing candidates there were, and how so many French voters were prepared to vote for token candidates who had no chance of making the second round, therefore robbing Jospin of votes with everyone so secure in the knowledge (or rather the mistaken belief) that he'd get through - I think people will no longer approach presidential elections in quite the same way. And the Socialist Party has never fully recovered, has it?

Adam said...

Tim: You've mentioned several important things that I didn't find space for. There were in fact 16 candidates in the first round of voting. The FN scored over 16% of the vote, but that should not have been enough to secure second place, and it was to the shame of the Socialist party that they couldn't group together at least 20% of the vote. However, the big winner of the first round is not mentioned enough - abstention had the highest percentage of all - 28.4%!

henk van es said...

Hello Adam,
Just want to let you know how much I appreciate this little series of Paris happenings. What a very good idea! What a surprising selection of events! Every text gives me an opportunity to relive these moments of the past. Am looking forward expectantly for the ones to come. All the best,

PeterParis said...

The right extremes seem to have some success in a lot of countries! The danger may be greater in the tough economic situation that we now suffer.

Fortunately, that unexpected result for Le Pen may have served as a warning, but the danger is still there!

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