Immigration helps define French presidential election

Tom Hundley
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Nicolas Sarkozy

CLICHY-SOUS-BOIS, France - A year and a half ago, when two teenage boys fleeing from police were accidentally electrocuted in this immigrant district on the outskirts of Paris, it touched off three weeks of rioting across France that some say marked the beginning of the end of Jacques Chirac's presidency.

In the months that followed, community activists began channeling the simmering anger of young immigrants into a voter registration drive that they hope will pay dividends on Sunday when French voters go to the polls to begin the process of choosing Chirac's successor.

More than 2,500 new voters have been added to Clichy's electoral rolls in the past year, a 30 percent increase. Across France, an estimated 1.8 million new voters have registered, according to media reports.

"It's the only thing politicians understand," said Samir Mihi, 29, a sports instructor and community activist who helped register voters in Clichy. "You can be a French citizen, but if you don't vote, they don't take you into account."

As the fiercely contested campaign headed into its final hours, center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy remained the front-runner and appeared to be the only candidate among 12 on the ballot certain to make it into the second round of voting. But his ultimate triumph is far from assured.

The other leading contenders are socialist Segolene Royal, the first woman with a serious shot at the presidency; centrist Francois Bayrou and the far-right's perennial favorite, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Polls last week showed Sarkozy leading with 27 percent to 29 percent, followed by Royal with 21 percent to 26 percent. Bayrou, who had drawn even with Royal little more than a month ago, has slipped under 20 percent. The top two finishers face each other in a May 6 run-off.

What makes Bayrou's candidacy intriguing is that more than a third of the electorate says it is still undecided, and 60 percent of voters say they trust neither the left nor the right. If Bayrou can make it into the run-off, polls indicate that he would defeat either Sarkozy or Royal.

The other wild card in the race is Le Pen, who is currently polling at about 13 percent to 14 percent. But because of his unsavory reputation - he once dismissed the Holocaust as "a detail of history" - many Le Pen supporters are reluctant to admit their preference to pollsters.

In the 2002 election, France was stunned when Le Pen made it into the run-off by edging out the Socialist Party candidate Lionel Jospin before losing to Chirac in the second round.

Chirac, a deeply unpopular figure in France these days, is not seeking a third term.

In recent elections, voter turnout in Clichy has tended to be lower than the national average. That is expected to change in this election, mainly because of Sarkozy, who has had a polarizing effect on the town's mixed community of recent immigrants and working-class French.

During the 2005 riots, Sarkozy, who was then interior minister, described the young immigrant rioters as "scum" and promised a harsh crackdown. His admirers praise him as a tough proponent of law-and-order while foes see him as a dangerous authoritarian figure who panders to anti-immigrant sentiments.

Asked for her voting preference, Frederique Luisoni, a first-time voter answered by announcing whom she would definitely not vote for:

"Never for Sarkozy or Le Pen," said the 18-year old student who works as a clerk in a shopping mall flower store.

But in a perfume shop nearby, Diane Lyon, 25, another first-time voter, said she was backing Sarkozy.

"He has a track record. When he was in power, he addressed the problem (of crime), and when there were problems here, he responded," she said.

In addition to his tough stance on crime, Sarkozy has called for more flexibility in the French economy and for relaxing some of the work rules that are sacrosanct to France's powerful trade unions - positions that set him apart from his closest rival, Royal.

Jean Paul Le Flem, 63, a retired autoworker, said he agreed with Sarkozy on the economy.

"The unemployed get too many benefits, and I include myself when I was unemployed," he said. "In the United States, if you want to make money, you have to work. In France, we don't have that freedom."

Le Flem also said that Le Pen had "good ideas" for France, but that at 78, the far-right nationalist was "too old" to be president.





Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.


The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.


Rush's 'Permanent Waves' Endures with Faultless Commercial Complexity

Forty years later, Rush's ability to strike a nearly perfect balance between mainstream invitingness and exclusory complexity is even more evident and remarkable. The progressive rock classic, Permanent Waves, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.


Drum Machines? Samples? Brendan Benson Gets Contemporary with 'Dear Life'

Powerpop overlord and part-time Raconteur, Brendan Benson, grafts hip-hop beats to guitar pop on his seventh solo album, Dear Life.


'Sell You Everything' Brings to Light Buzzcocks '1991 Demo LP' That Passed Under-the-Radar

Cherry Red Records' new box-set issued in memory of Pete Shelley gathers together the entire post-reunion output of the legendary Buzzcocks. Across the next week, PopMatters explores the set album-by-album. First up is The 1991 Demo LP.


10 Key Tracks From the British Synthpop Boom of 1980

It's 40 years since the first explosion of electronic songs revitalized the UK charts with futuristic subject matter, DIY aesthetics, and occasionally pompous lyrics. To celebrate, here's a chronological list of those Moog-infused tracks of 1980 that had the biggest impact.

Reading Pandemics

Poe, Pandemic, and Underlying Conditions

To read Edgar Allan Poe in the time of pandemic, we need to appreciate a very different aspect of his perspective—not that of a mimetic artist but of the political economist.


'Yours, Jean' Is a Perfect Mixture of Tragedy, Repressed Desire, and Poor Impulse Control

Lee Martin's Yours, Jean is a perfectly balanced and heartbreaking mix of true crime narrative and literary fiction.


The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.