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French Election: The Debate Enters Cyberspace
[Opinion] Will Sarkozy take up the cudgels?
Demian West (demianwest)     Print Article 
Published 2007-04-14 15:12 (KST)   
Less than 10 days before the first ballot on April 22, the French will probably glide through a somnolent campaign to polling day, with perhaps some reshuffling and a surprise upset in store, especially since more than 40 percent of the electorate have yet to make their choice.

The ambitious leader of the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), Nicolas Sarkozy, consistently polls 28 percent, although the centrist outsider Francois Bayrou is straddling the political spectrum. The French are rallying to this new standoff between right and left, although they fear radical change and stringent reforms are in the offing.

We sense a climate of unease in the French republic -- cyber-candidate Segolene Royal and Sarkozy flirt daringly with the far-right extremist policy of National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who in turn has played the leftish consort to two suburban youngsters.

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"You are indisputably French," said the newly-branded Le Pen as he nonetheless aims xenophobia at the very heart of his potential 15 percent of voters. He recently disparaged Sarkozy as half-Hungarian and a quarter Jewish on his maternal side. Finally, we can readily appreciate xenophobia and antisemitism as the traditional political weapons of the far-right. Le Pen meanwhile has given curious advice to youngsters, that, despite taking advantage of free condoms, they should masturbate, manu militari, he said.

On the other hand, the question is whether the Socialists have learned from their stunning defeat in the 2002 elections.

Potentially France's first female president, Royal has not taken advantage of her attractiveness and, in her own camp, is currently criticized for taking decisions solo. Fellow Socialists have tired of her rash and improvisational decision making. Moreover, in a forum sponsored by the magazine Elle, she proposed, to a chorus of moans, moving the remains of the feminist Olympe de Gouges to the Pantheon. She also recently betrayed her ignorance, in public, of the fact that the Taliban was no longer in power in Afghanistan.

Sarkozy, for his part, has made his share of blunders as well. Last month, for example, he claimed, against all scientific opinion, that pedophilia and suicide result from a genetic flaw, which immediately provoked a sharply critical reaction.

In his recent book, Ethnicity & Equality: France in the Balance, former Minister for Equal Opportunities Azouz Begag accused Sarkozy of threatening him with assault. After resigning from the government, Begag published this unflattering portrait of Sarkozy accusing and smearing suburban minority youngsters.

After Sarkozy set fire to the suburbs in 2005 with his tough-guy approach, Begag leveled his critique at the current candidate for the presidency, using the word "thug," to which Sarkozy replied by telling him, "I'm going to smash your face." Finally, he called Begag a "disloyal bastard," a far-from-diplomatic turn of phrase for a candidate campaigning on the issue of national unity.

No doubt we are in for an anxious time before the coming hurricane makes a mockery of election predictions. Political scientist Jacques Gerstle has accordingly noted the "absence of a dominant theme" in the campaign. In 2002, debate focused on security and unemployment, whereas today the candidates trade blows about dirty tricks and vengeance remote from mainstream ideology and policy. This could show a new strategy of appealing to a more widespread range of voters, including the traditionally volatile.

By improvisation and relentless competition, the leading contenders are endeavoring to win over undecided voters. On Monday, the campaign staffs displayed posters of their respective candidates everywhere throughout France. Since this "official opening" of the presidential campaign, the 12 contenders have aired free, equal-length time spots in the mainstream media.

Most are aware of how the leader of the Union for French Democracy, Bayrou, has run a relatively gaffe-free campaign, which has, however, become more diffuse and unfocused. Bayrou has, accordingly, called the blogosphere to a great rally and debate in cyberspace among the four leading contenders. Thus, the mainstream Citizen Media in Europe, AgoraVox, and its president Carlo Revelli, have tried to guide this cyber convention scheduled for April 16. And Revelli might build up a new style of political CyberDebate with help from the mainstream press and collaborating bloggers and citizen broadcast channels.

The question is whether Sarkozy will accept the challenge to debate, so foreign to public television and the mainstream media. Finally, Citizen Media AgoraVox has shaped this debate to be a sort of third round, which could launch the ballot throughout the blogosphere. Finally, the CyberDebate, coming at the cyber electorate, could make the difference and decide the next president of France.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Demian West

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