Day 15 – Almost Sunday. 46,97 million French voters (1.3 million abroad) will soon be able to vote …

… but, for some, Election Day’s well and truly here already

In Saint Pierre and Miquelon, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Barthelemy, Saint-Martin and French Polynesia, as well as for French people on the American continent, Saturday is Election Day. The 5,000 voters of Saint Pierre and Miquelon started voting at midday today (Saturday).

In metropolitan France (being mainland France and its nearby European islands, including Corsica), La Reunion, Mayotte and New Caledonia, a total of 66,546 polling stations will open at 08:00 on Sunday and stay open until 19:00 on Sunday evening, with voters in some big towns able to vote until 20:00.

One of the great traditions of previous Presidential Elections for French households would be awaiting the arrival of 8pm. At that precise moment both TF1 and France 2 give their respective forecasts of the two candidates who will go through to Round 2: their two faces fill the screen. That was the moment at which, in 2002, France learnt that Jean-Marie Le Pen had overtaken Socialist Jospin in the final three days to face off against Chirac. People switched wildly between channels hoping to find a different answer elsewhere.

But two issues could perhaps inhibit the definitive 8pm forecast being made with the same confidence as previously:

  • polling stations everywhere, other than big towns, previously closed at 18:00, not 19:00 – so their counts will start an hour later; and
  • it still seems as if 4 candidates are all in competition.

So, with one hour less for the pollsters to do their calculations, it may well be the case that we will see three, or perhaps even four, faces on our screens at 20:00 CET.

How to vote

When the voter arrives in front of the Electoral Officer, they present their ID and their presence on the Electoral Register is verified. The voter takes an envelope and ballot papers [each candidate has their name printed on a blank sheet] of at least 2 or more of the candidates [the Ministry of the Interior recommends that several, or all, ballot papers are taken so as to preserve the confidentiality of the vote].

The voter goes to the polling booth (there have to be enough booths so that there is one for every 300 voters in that polling area) and places the ballot paper of the person they wish to vote for in the envelope. Any mark on the ballot paper invalidates it. The voter then returns to the Electoral Officer with the envelope, the voter places the envelope in the transparent box, and the Electoral Officer announces aloud that Mr/Ms X ‘has voted’ and the voter signs the electoral roll to show they have voted.

Voters registered overseas have recently been able to vote electronically in certain Elections, but that option has been withdrawn this time and voters must vote in person at the Consulate/Embassy.

End of Round 1 

Legally, the campaign would have, in any event, stopped at midnight last night (Friday). From that moment on (by law) no more opinion polls, no more interviews with journalists, no more promotion of candidates.

However, the terrorist attack on the Champs Elysées took place whilst all 11 candidates were live, on France 2, having (in certain cases) their Final Fifteen Minutes of Fame. The attack led 3 of them (Fillon, Le Pen, Macron) instantly to announce the suspension of their campaigns. Fillon said it was to ‘show solidarity with the police and the French people who are increasingly anxious about terrorist acts’. Macron explained that it was to take account ‘of the necessary police mobilisation for security purposes’. Both Mélenchon and Hamon, however, said they would not suspend their campaigns to demonstrate that they were not giving way to terrorism.

Prime Minister, Cazeneuve, said on Friday morning: ‘Nothing must be allowed to get in the way of this fundamental democratic moment for our country’. But this exhortation was treated with variable geometry by the candidates. It was a more-than-somewhat artificial ‘suspension’ that some indulged in. Yes, public meetings were cancelled. But that didn’t prevent them spending much of yesterday on TV and with journalists.

Le Pen, in particular, rushed straight on to TV yesterday morning and demanded the expulsion of all foreigners or bi-nationals who are fiché S [some 20,000 people categorised by the police as being a serious threat to national security, of whom half (?) may be identified as Islamic radicals]. This was but 15 hours after the murder. However, the man who, it appears, committed the terrorist murder was neither fiché S nor a foreigner (he was French): in Le Pen’s Politics murdered people are used with impunity for political ends.

Le Monde editorial (yesterday): The terrorist trap.

‘France and the French people must not fall into the trap set by the killers … They must not swing over in panic nor give way to those – in particular the President of the Front National, their candidate – who want to apply to real, or supposed, jihadists eye for an eye revenge … Again, everyone knows that against this pervasive and unremitting threat, zero risk does not exist … That is no reason for putting aside the principle that France is a country of the rule of law and that the best means of defending it is by respecting the rule of law as much as respect for its values and its rules. One wants to believe that the French – at the very moment when they are choosing their next President – will not give way to those sorcerer’s apprentices who want to be free to do what they want.’

Le Monde editorial (today): The value of a vote

A signed 1300 word editorial by the editor,  Fenoglio. Its opening, and its close:

‘This atypical Presidential campaign, which finishes on Sunday, has already been blamed for a lot. Its excesses, its mix-ups, its lies, its deficiencies and its dead ends. Initially, the absence of any debate on the previous Presidential term, which no-one has defended. Then its questionable beginning with the parties’ Primary elections whose relevance was increasingly questioned? And, finally, its uncertain dénouement in a ballot where, exceptionally, four candidates could qualify for the second round … Le Monde does not support any candidate, still less will it call for a vote for any candidate. However, this neutrality is based on values which can lead us to identify dangers … we remain fervent defenders of democracy. We feel obliged to urge everyone to participate in this historic Election. And this further leads us to believe that one candidature is incompatible in every way with our values and our positions: that of Marine Le Pen.’

The Economist editorial (pre-Champs Elysées attack)

‘France is not just deeply unhappy, it is at war with itself … [Four candidates] range from the odious right to the vicious left, with two pro-market reformers in the middle. Seldom has a European democracy been so torn between progress and disaster … the battle over liberal internationalism has moved to the cradle of the Enlightenment. The fate of France is not all that is at stake. The European Union will stall if one of its driving forces is in chaos or hostile. It may even fail, wrecking the organising principles of an entire continent.’

‘Fake news’ from F. Fillon

Why not? He seems to have happily passed on, in the recent past, considerable quantities of erroneous information, so why not a bit of fake news at a time of extra-high tension.

This concerned Fillon’s statement on TV on Thursday night – soon after the murderous Champs Elysées attack – to the effect that there ‘had been other violent attacks elsewhere in Paris’ following the murder of the police officer. Yesterday morning (Friday), following his press conference, Fillon was asked once again about these other attacks, and asked if this was ‘fake news’. Fillon insisted that other attacks had indeed taken place and that there were police reports to that effect. However, Friday midday, both the Ministry of the Interior and the police repeated statements from the previous evening that no other attacks whatsoever had occurred. Police sources said that, in Thursday night’s confusion, a considerable amount of false information and rumours had been circulating, but that all stories of other shootings were false.

Vote Poutou 

Signatories from 20 countries, including lots of Argentinians, Swiss, Brazilians and Mexicans … and with England’s (sic) Ken Loach at their very head, called for a vote for Poutou (New Anti-Capitalist Party) ‘the only candidate … defending a position of bottom-up democracy, who is anti-capitalist, anti-racist, internationalist, ecologist and feminist.’

Vote Mélenchon 

Said the Independent Workers Party, formed in 2008 following the death of the apparently little-regretted Workers Party, which was itself little more than a front for the Internationalist Communist Organisation (whose successor is the Internationalist Communist Current of the Workers Party). However, at their 5th Congress (November 2015) a particular tendency (led by splitter Daniel Gluckstein) decided to break away from the Independent Workers Party, thus creating the Independent Democratic Workers Party … and it is possibly a matter of some regret that I am wholly unable to tell you whether the latter do, or don’t, support Mélenchon. Pay attention: there may be a test on the genesis/progress of France’s Trotskyist parties. And here’s a far better earlier version.

Campaigning

Arriving in France 25 years ago, I found it difficult to understand the way elections were run. I had been used to the British approach: canvassers going door-to-door trying to elicit the voting intentions of those on the Electoral Register, and then (on Election Day) doing everything possible to ensure that ‘their vote’ got out. Over time, this became more sophisticated, as telephone canvassing took over from the individual door-knocking. But always with the purpose of attempting to ‘identify’, then ‘shore up’ through regular contact, and finally ‘get to the voting station’ those who support your Party.

Perhaps this all comes from a background where high voter turnout is a thing of the distant past, and thus differential turnout is all-important.

In France, however, voting at Presidential Elections has traditionally been high. Abstention has only exceeded 23% in 3 elections over the 50 years of the 5th Republic: in both Rounds of 1969 and the third being that infamous 1st round of 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen came second. Hence, perhaps, the lack of necessity to identify, nurture and then get out your vote – coupled with, perhaps, a reticence to discuss such private matters as voting intention publicly (?) – has meant that the national campaign determined who would vote.

But the arrival of social media, the incursion of novel campaigning ideas and, perhaps, the recognition of the importance of differential abstention has led to serious changes in campaigning styles.

I know of one household where the parents don’t have French citizenship, but their son does. He is on the Electoral Register, and the Macron campaign actually tried to phone him. Le Monde reports that they have sent out a message recorded by Macron to six million telephones, compared with Mélenchon’s 3,000 per day over several weeks.

Even I – who merely gave my email address to a Macron militant I had been chatting to in our market-place – received an email last night, with the hand-written message below [is there a graphologist out there?] plus a short film of a very serious Macron urging me to do my duty and vote for change. [The email did actually arrive after midnight last night and hence appears to be in breach of Election Law. Hmmm.]

unnamed

The Old Parties? Thank you and good night.

There have been 9 Presidential Elections under the 5th Republic. In 7 of them the votes of the Socialist and centre-Right candidates totalled 49% or more of the global Round 1 vote. In 1981 they added up to 44%, and just 36% in the 2002 bombshell (where there was 28% abstention).

What odds that Hamon and Fillon will together get less than 30%? Or maybe even 25%?

And there may well be a further record for those who either mark their ballot papers, so as to invalidate them, or who place no ballot paper in the envelope (vote blanc), thus indicating their preference for ‘None of the above’. The previous ‘high point of utter discontent’ was, again, in 2002 when 3.38% positively stated their disdain with all that was on offer candidate-wise.

Opinion Polls

Four final polls re. Round 1 (dates when polled after name of pollster):

  • Macron 24.5%, Le Pen 23%, Fillon 19%, Mélenchon 19% (Odoxa – 21 April)
  • Macron 23%, Le Pen 23%, Mélenchon 19.5%, Fillon 19% (BVA – 20/21 April)
  • Macron 24.5%, Le Pen 22.5%, Fillon 19.5%, Mélenchon 18.5% (IF – 19-21 April)
  • Macron 23%, Le Pen 22%, Fillon 21%, Mélenchon 18% (OpinionWay – 19-21 April)

Odoxa says ‘the chances of Macron not qualifying for the 2nd round are very small’ and the chances of either Fillon or Mélenchon getting 2nd place ‘is less and less probable’. Also noteworthy is that Thursday night’s terrorist attack appears to have stopped Le Pen’s fall in support: she’s the only candidate whose support has tangibly changed.

Odoxa‘s Round 2 poll shows Macron 62% v Le Pen 38% (Macron down 3 and Le Pen up 3 points compared to the previous day) – with 25% not saying how they would vote.

BVA polled 1500 people (compared to Odoxa‘s 1000). BVA found 29% of people who say they are ‘certain’ to vote on Sunday could either change their mind or refused to say for whom they would vote – with over a third saying that no candidate fits with what they were looking for and 30% either hesitating between 2 candidates or still unconvinced. They estimate an overall turnout of between 76 – 80%. 73% of Macron’s voters, compared to 86% of Le Pen’s are ‘certain’ to vote for their candidate.

BVA‘s Round 2 poll shows the same results as previously: Macron winning against all-comers, Le Pen losing against all … and still a very high level of unwillingness to declare voting intention.

A demain

Until the morrow.

I’m still worried. But then I’m a pessimistic worrier.

 

 

 

 

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