Monday, March 15, 2010

French Regional Elections Results (woo-hoo!)

If you're reading this in the hopes of learning something reliable and concrete about the French political system, please read no further. (You may want to try my astute student's blog, instead!). I can offer a bottom line: the Socialist Party did well (but there's also talk in the news of late-night negotiations with the Ecological Party for a coalition for the second round next week - and see, I've already been left in the dust). Having spent some time in Chicago, I love regional politics, the more parties and intrigues the better, and for some reason, I am not troubled to understand all of the ins and outs of the system - I like to follow the personalities (typically American, I know) and, as of tonight, I am an avid fan of the names of the different parties that are running. If you think French politics are just about the PS (Socialist Party) or the UMP (Union (?) of the Popular Movement) or (ugh) the FN (National Front), a lovely surprise is on its way to you.

But first! May I present to you, our budding architect! Oliver was bursting with pride when I picked him up at the end of the day - he built this little house "on my own!" he told me, "well, on my own with instructions." Oui, of course. Now, a tiny bit of comparative analysis about the French and American educational system (before the poetry of French political party names!). Had this house project been done at New Pathways or Ridpath, the kids would have been simply told to build a house using whatever materials they wanted to (this has actually happened - to build a boat at New Pathways, and to design a room at Ridpath). The houses/boats/rooms are all highly individualistic and (let's be honest) look, uh, earnest but unstable, as far as engineering or architecture goes. But the kids did it themselves by golly! Here it's different: the kids were given the choice of three floor plans, and then glued cardboard walls for the outside structure...

... and partitions for the interior. The result is impressively professional for a bunch of 7 year-olds! Nice, neat, and tight, and the houses are all fitted together into a village display at school. As ever, I'm not going to favor one over the other, there are aspects of both that are appealing: the pluckiness and individualism of the American house model; the professionalism and coherence of the French house model. In both instances, kids are given something to dream about (fantasy and imagination is at play in both models, I would argue). America: the dream of eclecticism, France: the dream of coherence. Am I overdetermining my interpretation here? Maybe, maybe not. Both dreams are valid and interesting, both are utopic. And it's the French, after all, who gave us Gaston Bachelard and his (philosophical) houses of memory, i.e. there's beautiful, evocative thinking within French philosophy about the thinking structures that houses create - so I know that there's a poetic, lyrical approach to architecture within French thinking. I spend a lot of time thinking about innovation vs. tradition (there are ethical promises and dilemmas to both) and it's so interesting to see that tension at play within the two school systems. Oliver remains blessedly free of this comparative analysis - he's just really proud he made a cool-looking house. Actually, he wants me to see the village, too, because he connected his house to another house using an architectural feature he saw at the house on the island here in town - cool!

Oh, I hope that you're still with me. Because if there's one place French innovation shines (actually, it's architecture, now that I think about it) - ok, if there's another place French innovation shines, it's in the titles of the various political parties. What follows is a list of the political parties that made a showing in nearby Ploërmel - I also include my translation-transliteration of the party names. Ok, and my own beffudled/snarky comments.
  • The Socialist Party is known here as "La Bretagne solidaire, créative et responsable - PS" = "Loyal, creative and responsable Brittany" (just the kind of Brittany we want!). These guys carried the day with 36.71% of the vote.
  • The "Majorité Présidentielle" = the "Presidential Majority" came in with 31.99% of the vote. Now I think that this is really the UMP in disguise, but they're calling it the Presidential Majority party because Sarkozy in president and he's UMP. Tricky!
  • Next comes "Europe Ecologie Bretagne" = "Europe Ecology Brittany" (there's no syntax, there, just words you want to see associated!). These guys are the greens that are trying to work something with out with the Socialist Party (they were all on their cell phones on the news). They came in with a respectable 9.75% (I don't know - is that respectable?)
  • Next, the MoDEM, the "Mouvement Democrate" = the "Democratic Movement" (sounds like a good, solid name, doesn't it? and yet, according to the news, they had a dismal showing with 5.54% of the vote (well, those are the Ploërmel numbers, but they're reflective of the country) and everyone saying they're practically dead. I believe this is the centrist party, and I'm sorry to see it get crunched in the polarization between the left and the right - so thank goodness for the little guys about to follow).
  • Well, actually, except for "Bretagne LePen 2010 - FN" = "Brittany, le Pen 2010 - National Front" who came in with 5.03% of the vote and called it a rousing victory, clearly taking a page in truth distortion from Fox News (shudder). They actually did significantly better in other regions: a whopping 15.89% in Champagne-Ardenne (I'd love an explanation for that one), and a scary 18.31% in Nord-Pas-de-Calais (what's going on there?). Wait! I just ran through all the regions and Brittany had the lowest percentage for the FN (6.18%) - the next highest up was the Pays-de-la-Loire region with 7.05% - three cheers for Brittany!!! What's going on, Champagne and Nord-Pas-de-Calais? This is the "France for the French" party, French being quite narrowly defined. It's a father and daughter team, now, and the daughter is making herself the champion of "laïcité" (lay (i.e. non-religious) culture) so that she can protest every single manifestation of Muslim presence in France. Urgh and ack and let's move on.
  • The next party received 2.36% of the vote, but that may have something to do with its title: "Ensemble pour une Bretagne à gauche, solidaire, écologique et citoyenne" = "Together for a Brittany that's to the left, together, ecological and civic-minded" (quite a mouthful! I like to think of it as a poem, rather - a lovely poem to a really great party: those are all awesome goals!)
  • 2.29% went to "Nous te ferons Bretagne - DVG" = "We'll make you Brittany - DVG" (DVG itself stands for "Diverses Gauches" = "various (and sundry?) leftists" (this is the home for the other liberals - and hey, their website says it all in Breton, too!)
  • The "Terres de Bretagne" = "Lands of Brittany" also received 2.29% of the vote (what's their platform? Poking around a bit on the web (they don't have a website) indicates that they are indeed a farmers' party, specifically a Breton farmers' party).
  • I wish that more than 1.74% of the vote had gone to "Vraiment à gauche, unitaire, anticapitaliste pour une écologie radicale - NPA" = "Truly to the left, united, anticapitalist for a radical ecology - NPA" (NPA itself stands for "New Anticapitalist Movement" (go, go, guys - better luck in six years!)
  • 1.23% went to the little poem, "Bretagne phare du nouveau monde - DVD" = "Brittany Lighthouse of the New World - DVD" (DVD being the other side of the spectrum from DVG, i.e. "Diverses Droites" = "various (and sundry?) rightists"
  • And last but not least (oh, no, wait, they actually were least), 1.06 went to the "Lutte Ouvrière soutenue par Arlette Laguiller - LO" = "The Workers' Struggle Upheld by Arlette Laguiller - LO" - LO being "Lutte Ouvrière" = "Workers' Struggle" (I love that their website specifies that they are a Trotskyite Communist Party). Wow!
So what does all of this mean? It means that the Socialist Party did well against the UMP (Sarokozy's party, the Union (?) of the Popular Movement). But what does that mean? Will the UMP now have to work more closely with the PS? People keep saying these are just the "regional" elections, but then others are saying that this a referendum on Sarkozy, etc. Well, there's another round next Sunday in which some (I don't think all) parties will have another go. (Why?) Everyone is hoping for a greater voter turnout (only 53% of the nation voted this time around). I hope that more people vote: there are a great many platforms to choose from (I still can't believe how "For Dummies" the American political system is - we can't squeeze a third party in there to save our lives) - and all those great names! For super-astute political commentary, you'll want to consult Les Guignols, of course. Or, Le Monde. Enjoy!


  1. I love your party summary! I wish we could squeeze at least a third one in there... but I have two little anecdotes you might find funny...
    1) When we were discussing the FN in our classes, my prof Thomas told us something funny and a little bit disturbing, but vry telling about the FN... so Jean-Marie is 81 and old and really not doing so hot, so there has been talk of him no longer being president of the FN, and the person probably most qualified to do do it, is of course his daughter Marine... but the people in the FN party don't want her to do it for two mqin reasons 1)she has been divorced and 2) !!! because she is a woman!!!!! and that is just to liberal for them, they want a man to be in charge!!! o good lord! I hope the FN falls apart; but that is just me.

    2) The American electoral system might be for dumbies but try explaining the electoral college to your mère d'accueil and how it came into play in the 2000 election between Bush and Gore, and you are in for a very confusing conversation! Also try explaining why our elections are always on a Tuesday... why is that anyway?

    Have a great day and we are all looking forward to how the regional elections turn out aprè le deuxième tour!

  2. too find French politics wonderfully fascinating so I'll take a moment to throw in few comments... You are right on about the name
    confusion the l'UMP -- it was originally the Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular (or people's) movement), but it's name
    change to l'Union pour la majorité présidentielle (the Union for the Presidential majority) in the years right before the 2007 election when Sarkozy united several large parties on the political right.

    Almost 10 percent is a good showing for Europe Ecologie, though they've been gaining a lot of ground since the last European elections and now can regularly earn double-digit results. They usually team up with the PS and, in spite of the last-ditch efforts by the UMP at courting Ecologie's constituents for the second round, a united front of the Gauche was announced today in all but a few regions.

    MoDem is the latest incarnation of France's short-lived centrist parties, who do tend to get torn apart or ignored in the highly polarized French political spectrum. Their leader, François Bayrou, is quite the ideologue and an interesting person but he also made some odd decisions in the run-up to these elections and pretty much did himself and his party in.

    To be eligible for the second round, you have to earn a certain percentage in the first, I believe around 4 or 5 but I'm not certain. So unfortunately some of those poetically-named groups have already had their fun. As far as the significance of the vote is concerned, I
    personally don't think it matters too much to the French, thus the abstentionism (though it may also be in part out of frustration with
    Sarkozy or French politics in general). The region is a fairly recent innovation in French politics and many people still aren't really sure what it does for them. Also, the regional system is scheduled to undergo some changes in the next election, so people may be uncertain
    of its future, too.

    Now I've gone on too long, but I will say that I also love the fact that a specifically Trotskyite Communist party still exists in France -- the French Communists used to fight bitterly about those sorts of things, whereas we were busy with McCarthy's antics.

  3. Thank goodness for you guys! Now I'm twice as excited about the second round! I've learned a bit more about the regions tonight - but had no idea they were new. Might explain the little-above 50% voter turn-out. Re: the FN - let them sink in the morass of Salic Law (in which only a man can inherit) - a medieval law for a worse-than-the-Middle-Ages party. As Eleanor would (now) say: "allons-y!"