Yesterday, while walking around my neighborhood, I passed this row of posters on the street. It’s the whole motley crew. Let’s go through them, one by one. (The first round of voting for the next president of France takes place this Sunday April 23rd.)
FILLON – ex-prime minister in Sarkozy’s government. Right-wing neoliberal whose political hero is Margaret Thatcher. A favorite among Catholic conservatives. Vows to preserve traditional family values, respect France’s Christian roots, and reverse adoption rights for gay couples. Supports hardline groups that oppose France’s same-sex marriage law. As a Catholic, he says he is personally opposed to abortion, but would not try to change the 1975 law that legalized it in France. Une Volonté Pour La France (A Willingness for France) is his slogan. Well, many were willing, but he blew it. Caught with his fingers in the honey pot. Instead of finding himself in the Elysée (the presidential office), he might find himself in jail.
LASSALLE – born in a tiny village high in the Pyrenees mountains, comes from a humble family of shepherds. In the late 1970s he became mayor of his region. A decade ago, he went on a hunger strike when a Japanese firm threatened to close a paint factory in his mountain constituency where 150 people were employed. Honest, hard-working and dedicated to his region. Problem is, his regional accent is so thick, no-one can understand him when he speaks. And that nose? It could run on its own independent ticket.
MELENCHON – Left-wing, very left. Cozied up to Castro and Chavez. Once a member of the Socialist Party, he broke away to create his own political platform called La France insoumise (Unsubmissive France), a platform endorsed by the Left Party and the French Communist Party. Acid-tongued and frequently aggressive, he is anti-EU (European Union), anti-globalization and anti-NATO. What he does support is the expansion of French welfare programs, the mass redistribution of wealth to rectify socio-economic inequalities, a 100 per cent income tax on all French nationals earning over 360,000 Euros a year, full state reimbursement for healthcare costs, and the easing of immigration laws. He also supports the legalization of cannabis. According to the NGOs for Action Against Hunger, Action World Health, CARE France and ONE Campaign, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the one presidential candidate the most engaged regarding international solidarity. He’s also known as the best orator for the French people.
LE PEN – France’s extreme right-wing leader and president of the National Front; daughter of NF founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, racist and convicted holocaust denier. Her goal is to transform the NF into a “big popular party that addresses itself not only to the electorate on the right, but to all the French people.” Good luck with that. Problem is, the stink of thuggism, racism, xenophophia, protectionism, nationalism and corruption still (and always will) hovers over this party. A common characteristic of extreme right-wing political parties the world over is to prey on the insecurities of certain people and stoke two of their base emotions: hate and fear. Le Pen shamelessly promotes the fear and hatred of immigrants, Islam, globalization, élitism, the Euro and the EU. Like Brexit, she wants to pull out of the European Union and return to the currency of the French Franc. Her support base is largely white working class, unemployed and non-college educated. On a personal note, a person to fear more than Marine Le Pen is her 27 year old niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. Scary.
HAMON – Earnest, sincere and likeable, Brittany-born Hamon is a member of the Socialist Party. Appointed Junior Minister for the Social Economy in 2012, he went on to become, in President Hollande’s government, Minister of National Education in 2014. Hamon represents the green and left-wing side of the Socialist Party. Concerned for the future of his children and grandchildren, he pushes a hard line in favor of environmental policies. All was going well for Hamon until he introduced a measure that turned off, including me, a lot of people. He wants to give all French citizens a basic income in which all citizens and residents regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from the government or some other public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere. This radical idea has contributed to his downfall. From where would this money come? From those who work and already pay astronomically high taxes, contributions and compulsory payments? Bye-bye, Benoît.
POUTOU – Trade unionist, car factory worker and presidential candidate representing the far left, the country thrilled to see this unknown man show up on national television wearing jeans and a t-shirt while copiously insulting François Fillon and Marine Le Pen. He became a national hero overnight. It was during the April 4 debate session of the eleven candidates. He didn’t mince words. Speaking directly to Fillon, he said this – “The more we dig, the more we smell the corruption and cheating. These are the men who explain to us the necessity of rigor and austerity, and all the while they’re stealing from the public cash boxes.” Fillon scowled and muttered words to the effect of: “I’ll fucking sue you.” He is under investigation for misuse of public funds to the tune of nearly one million euros.
And to Marine Le Pen, he triumphed again. “And then there’s Madame Le Pen who also steals from the public cash boxes. For someone who’s anti-European, it doesn’t bother her to steal from the cash boxes of Europe.” For the first time in her life, Le Pen stood dumbfounded, lost for words. He was referring to her current allegations of fraud (misuse of funds) from the European Union budget. Poutou went on to say “ The National Front claims to be anti-system but in fact protects itself, thanks to the laws of the system, with its parliamentary immunity and refusal to go to the precinct for questioning when summoned by the police.” The audience cheered when he continued – “Us, when we’re summoned by the police, we don’t have factory worker immunity; off we go.”
Le Pen was ordered to appear before a judge, but refused to turn up. She has argued she did not use the money for personal enrichment and claimed she was being victimized.
Poutou’s slogan is “Nos vies, pas leurs profits” (Our lives, not their profits). Militant Poutou of the New Anti-capitalist party also refused to pose with the others for the official group photograph, saying “These people are not my colleagues.”
The son of a postman, Poutou, aged 50, left school without qualifications after failing his baccalaureate in mechanics. He currently works at a Ford factory repairing the production line machines. He arrived at the TV studio wearing a beige T-shirt – in stark contrast to the other male candidates all in suits and ties. Asked to introduce himself, he said: “I’m a factory worker and apart from Nathalie Arthaud, I believe I’m the only one here who has a normal job.”
TO BE CONTINUED …
For info – Candidates are pitted against each other twice – the first round of voting takes place on April 23. Then, the two top candidates face each other in a second run-off, on May 7.
French elections always take place on a Sunday.