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French Election: Who's the Second Man?
The three leading contenders are locked in a tight race
Demian West (demianwest)     Print Article 
Published 2007-03-12 07:21 (KST)   
In the upcoming French election, some would say we are reaching the no man's land of unpredictability. In fact, the three leading contenders -- Nicolas Sarkozy, Segolene Royal and Francois Bayrou -- are in a tight race. Meanwhile, the country's social problems increase day by day.

First of all, labor is too expensive because of lavish pension schemes. Also, French law makes it hard for enterprises to fire workers. Because of this, 300,000 French students and young people work abroad in England, as a new exodus toward a would-be paradise. At the same time, homelessness increases and a major portion of the people fear they'll become homeless too due to unemployment, despite the fact that the unemployment rate has fallen slightly the last six months. Daniel Bernard, chairman of the main retailer Carrefour, said, "Everyone is both denying decline and is obsessed by it," which is a good portrait of the French people's mood today and the stress on the elections.

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There are social difficulties about immigration too. Three weeks ago, the leader of the right wing, Nicolas Sarkozy, pledged for free speech in the so-called "Charlie-Hebdo case" in the Paris Hall of Justice. In court, a judge will decide whether the inflammatory Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad ridiculed Islam and thus constitute "injury caused by religious slander," or were quite normal in the French tradition of caricature and free expression.

A lawyer, Georges Kiejman, read a letter written and signed by Sarkozy: "I can well understand that certain drawings can clash with the religious convictions of our Muslim citizens." However, "I prefer an excess of caricature to its absence." This speech caused a great upset in the court because Sarkozy backed a leftist satirical paper that has ridiculed him without mercy. Outside, the crowd erupted in applause and cheers against the three Muslim organizations who sued the anarchist and libertarian paper. Obviously, this is a strange reversal of ideological ground for Sarkozy of the ruling UMP party.

Sarkozy recently announced his proposal for a new "immigration and national identity ministry," which provoked a great scandal throughout the political spectrum, from the centrist Bayrou to the far-left wing. This far-right proposal will probably seduce a portion of the far-right electorate of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the fourth man in the presidential election.

Incumbent President Jacques Chirac announced on Sunday that he would not seek re-election, thus ending his 12-year presidency. The major news will be whether Chirac back Sarkozy. As the leader and favorite of the right wing candidates, and president of the UMP, Sarkozy needs Chirac's help to win. Chirac has 40 years of right wing party experience. But Sarkozy knows it will be difficult to gain Chirac's support because of the history of treachery and dirty tricks between them and their respective staffs. In fact, during the 1995 presidential campaign, Sarkozy backed the candidacy of right wing contender Edouard Balladur against Chirac. Despite this treachery, Chirac won the presidency. However, Chirac has never forgotten it.

Chirac has to acknowledge publicly his favorite candidate at a time when the battle is sharpening between the three leading contenders. Thanks to Bayrou's recent surge in the polls, he and Socialist Royal are just about tied a few points behind Sarkozy, who leads with 28 percent. Analysts predict that if Bayrou overtakes Royal and makes it to the second round of voting on May 6, he will win the election.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Demian West

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