22 May 2007

New Feature: Labels!

If you have a look over at the left side of your page you'll see a new section called "Labels" with a bunch of words under it. I've gone back and labeled all of my posts with appropriate terms such that if you want to see all of my posts about France, or all of my posts with pictures, you simply click on the appropriate label on the left. Give it a try, I'd appreciate feedback if you think that it could be improved (more accurate labels, fewer labels, more labels, etc...).

La Politique Francaise, Part 2: Some History

Briefly, about the French electoral system:
French presidential elections use a run-off system whereby, if no one candidate receives 50% or more of the vote in the first round, the top two vote getters move on to the second round. The candidate that receives 50% or more of the vote then is then elected President. The term is now five years (which changed in 2000, down from seven). The first round of voting is held on a Sunday near the end of April and the second round, if necessary, is held two weeks later. This has the effect of putting May Day (or Labor Day, May 1st), a historically important day for protests and demonstrations, in between the two rounds. This has had explosive results in the past.

On to the history:
This election, as all elections do, took place in the shadow of its predecessor, the 2002 Presidential Election. This previous election had something of a scarring effect on the French psyche as a result of the success of the extreme-right/nationalist candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the first round, earning him a place in the second round against Chirac. After founding his party, the National Front, in 1972, Le Pen ran for President in 1974, 1988, 1995, and, of course, 2002. His presence was always a thorn in the side of the French political mainstream (particularly the left) though the fact that it seemed unlikely that he would ever make it to the second round (getting about 15% of the vote in most elections) minimized the appearance of his threat. In 2002, however, the vote amongst the left was divided between upwards of 8 parties, each getting between 16.2% (Socialist Party) and less than 1% (Party of the Workers). The majority of these smaller parties received between 2% and 6% of the vote. (To see how divided the left really was, one need only to look at the names of the parties which included the French Communist Party, the Revolutionary Communist League, the aforementioned Party of the Workers, the Workers Struggle party, and, of course, the Greens.) Given this division on the left, no major center-right candidate other than Chirac, and Le Pen's historical best performance (16.8%), the result of the second round put Chirac and Le Pen together for the second round.

The majority of the political spectrum, any one left of the extreme right, was shocked and, to some degree, ashamed that such an extreme figure could make it to the highest electoral round. Esther tells me about her experience that night where, as soon as the results were announced at 8pm, you could here the demonstrations beginning in the street. She joined them and remained out until 4 or 5am when finally the gendarmes came out with tear gas and water hoses to send everyone home. (Esther informs me that tear gas hurts.) This, of course, was just the night of the election and happened without any advanced planning. On May Day over 1.3 million people across France (more than 400,000 in Paris alone) demonstrated against Le Pen and made it pretty clear that at least he wouldn't be President.

When the second round came, Chirac prevailed, receiving the largest portion of the vote (82%) in the history of the fifth French Republic. It really stuck in the craw of the leftists to have to vote for Chirac and to contribute to his third-world-like landslide victory, but given the choices, there was no other option.

So, Chirac became president and did his thing for the next five years. His opposition to the Iraq War earned him a great deal of appreciation here and abroad but really, his second term was not particularly remarkable. In retrospect, what was perhaps most notable, was the ascension of a short-in-stature but big-in-presence, "tough on crime" firebrand through various ministerial positions. Though his name wasn't particularly well-known before the 2005 riots, it is certainly well-known now: Nicolas Sarkozy.

18 May 2007

La Politique Francaise, Part 1: A Disclaimer

[Chalk it up to my future career in law that I begin this with a EULA...]

To get this ball rolling, let's start with a platitude that you should keep in mind throughout the future posts:

  • France is not the United States and the United States are not France

Obviously true but often forgotten when analyzing current events in another country. The guys over at Marginal Revolution (a hugely insightful, economics oriented blog) gave the issue a once over here. The main message is that the model of government, social policy, and economic policy that you have for the United States doesn't do you much good in terms of analyzing the situation in Western Europe. What could be (and generally is) good policy in Western Europe, single-payer socialized health care, for example, can't be simply imported to the United States and be expected to work. The conception of government, particularly the balance of trust/skepticism that the public keeps in regard to the government, is completely different between the two countries. Certainly the cause of this is historical, but I'm not prepared to do that analysis now.

So, consider that a disclaimer, when you read about French politics, don't immediately interpret the information in terms of American politics. Remember, there are almost no situations in life in which a direct comparison between two complicated systems is possible, if someone tries to tell you that a situation is actually really simple and that you already understand it in terms of another situation, be skeptical. Nothing is simple, nothing is straightforward. It sounds daunting but, in reality, it's what makes this kind of analysis so much fun. (Your conception of fun may vary...)

It's coming, I promise

I've been trying really hard to write a summary of the recent presidential election here in France but I'm finding it really difficult and not for lack of trying (seriously, it's been bugging me for a while now). The conclusion that I've come to is that I can't write about this election without writing first about politics in France more broadly, and I can't do that until I write about France in general. Without this context there would be unconscionable lack of subtlety and it would sound like any other generalized assessment of France and it's politics (Sarkozy=Bush, France is tearing itself apart, etc...) no of which is true, at least not completely true.

With this in mind I am going to begin writing a series of several installments reflecting on France, her politics, and this most recent election. In the meantime I'll try and jazz things up with posts on other subjects as well. Mark this as my return to the world of the blogging, expect updates shortly (seriously this time).

04 May 2007

Long Time, No Post

Sorry to all of you that have been checking this from time to time, things got a little busy and I didn't have much time or motivation to direct toward updating this. Be not afraid, I have plenty to post about and plenty of pictures in particular so just you wait, there is much to come!

As for now, I imagine that a general update will suffice. Things are going well. I'm done with my job and have only a few weeks left in my class. It's a truism, but the time really has passed quickly. My time right now is mainly directed toward preparing for the LSAT. This is going pretty well, but I'm not yet satisfied with my scores, this being some five weeks from the test date.

Also I want to say congratulations to all those who have finished another year of college, particularly those who graduated. Enjoy your summer, do something new.