Change? Or Sarkozy again? French vote in presidential election
French voters turned out for the first round of France’s presidential election Sunday, many of them critical of a campaign they say failed to address their true concerns. Incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy hopes his loyal supporters will rally to his side but many voters say they’ve had enough of him.
“I voted for change and I also voted against Nicolas Sarkozy,” says Christine, a voter in Champigny-sur-Marne, a working-class town on the outskirts of Paris. She likes the left’s ideas on jobs and small businesses but judges many of hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s policies “totally unrealistic”.
A large proportion of Champigny’s population is of immigrant origin – Portuguese who came to France in the 60s, followed by migrants from north and sub-Saharan Africa – and the town council has been controlled by the Communist Party for decades.
No surprise, then, to find several voters backing Mélenchon, as do Monsieur le Maire and his comrades.
And they seem more enthusiastic than those who back Socialist François Hollande.
“Mélenchon has a personality that appeals to me and I have always voted Communist,” says Gérard. “I like his policies on education and immigration.”
Jean-Eric finds Hollande “an honest man”.
“He’s trying to put things back on the right track so that it is not just the rich who reap the benefit of everything,” he says.
But he admits to having had doubts at the start of the campaign.
“At one point I found him a bit soft but I think his campaign has been a success. He has picked good advisers. His first rally surprised me and I think it surprised the right, too.”
One dissident voice in Champigny is that of Mario, who is hanging around drinking beer outside a polling station with a rowdy groups of friends.
He has already voted, he says, and he voted for the Front National’s Marine Le Pen.
“We’ve had enough of French people having no jobs, sleeping in the street,” he says. I’m not racist but the foreigners have jobs and everything and we’ve got nothing.”
Sarkozy seems to have been a disappointment for Mario.
“He’s got us in the shit. If he’s reelected we’ll be even deeper in the shit.”
The people of St Maur are a little more restrained.
The river Marne separates it from Champigny but it is a different world, a middle-class suburb whose right-wing council prefers to pay fines to the state than build the legally required minimum of public housing.
Pensioner Raymonde thinks that “Nicolas” will be reelected.
“We should have the same again because the other isn’t up to the job,” she says.
And she can hardly believe her ears when it comes to Mélenchon’s promise to tackle low pay.
“One of them wants to raise the minimum wage to 1,700 euros! Can you believe that when there’s no money in the kitty?”
André, a pensioner who still runs a small business, believes that Sarkozy is “more decisive than his rival” and will finish the job he started if reelected.
But he believes that he should do less for the rich and more for the rest next time round.
He also wants labour law reformed to make it easier to fire employees.
His business is not doing well at the moment “because of the general situation and because the banks are tight with the loans and don’t give them out as easily before”.
Not all of St Maur votes on the right, however.
“It’s been an appalling campaign!” says Jacqueline, a middle-aged woman who won’t say how she voted but admits to liking the left’s ideas. “They didn’t talk about people’s real problems. That people spent their time talking about halal meat and the driving licence, I find that distressing.
“French people are worried about other things. There’s a terrible financial crisis. Everyone is very worried about the future for their children, for themselves, for their pension.”
Despite fears of a low turnout, over 70 per cent of registered voters had cast their ballots three hours before polls closed.