Being at the Political Sciences university here in Rennes, there was no chance that we could escape discussion of the French presidential elections which occurred this May.
Obviously, the whole society was talking about it from a few months before, and so it was all over the place (although having no TV I avoided it a bit, and having my radio tuned to a station not quite intellectual enough to discuss the elections took me even further away). I’ll admit, I ignored most of the information until after the premier tour, and so wasn’t really qualified to join in the conversations.
However, after the disturbing (but according to French friends not-so-surprising) figure of 20% votes for Marine Le Pen, candidate for the Front National (French equivalent of the BNP), I took more of an interest , actually listening properly to people talking about the elections.
One British friend took a very active interest in it all, and so together we decided to go to the Place de la Mairie to watch the election results on May the 6th. This was such a fantastic experience, which made me incredibly glad that I was in France for such an event, as I could notice the many differences between these elections in France and our own at home.
First of all, there’s the fact that the nation is voting for a person, rather than a party. This makes it obviously more of a personality contest, which may not be the best way to go about it, but on the other hand, at least you will be taking part in deciding who exactly will be the next one in charge.
Then there’s the fact that the voting takes place on a Sunday, rather than a day during the week like in Britain. I feel like the structure of French society thus contributes to the higher participation, seeing as the voting would relieve some of the usual Sunday monotony.
They are also able to give an exact time for the announcement of the results which came as a bit of a shock, being used to just thinking that we’ll find out the results when we wake up and see it on the news. I am much more of a fan of this aspect of the French system though, as it allows for events such as that in the Place de la Mairie to be organised, and so allowing us to go along and get caught up in the excitement of it all.
We arrived at about 19h45, as the results were to be announced at exactly 20h and my friend wanted to assure us a good spot. The square was already pretty busy, and filled up as time went on. The giant screen was showing some newsreaders trying to fill in the time before the results, and as it got to 19h55 we could feel the tensions rising.Two minutes before and everyone was staring intently at the screen, 30 seconds before and we got our cameras ready.
Then, exactly on time, a graphic of a red carpet unrolling towards the Champs Elysée came up and all of a sudden there was François Hollande’s face on the screen and a huge outburst of cheering all around us (it turns out that Rennes is a very Socialiste region.).
A couple in front of us offered us some champagne (we felt it only polite to accept despite neither of us liking the stuff), and all over the square people were happily opening bottles. From one of the flats beside the square people had even unfurled a banner (making us wonder if they had another for the event of Sarkozy winning, and in which case, what it said…):
The Left Act II : Francois is Back! (reference to Francois Mitterrand, socialist leader in the 1980s/90s)
Then followed people of various political parties talking about the results, which became more amusing as the crowd booed and cheered respectively for those defending Sarkozy and those from the Socialiste Party. Their boos got even louder when Sarkozy himself came on the screen to make his speech, with one child behind me on his dad’s shoulders shouting casse-toi at the screen and another man just constantly yelling Facho! which I felt was a leetle bit too strong…
Then we had to wait until about 21h30 for Hollande to turn out and make his victory speech, which to me seemed lacking in something, though I have no idea what. I get the impression that he hasn’t quite as strong a personality as Sarkozy.
Still, it was really cool to be around all the French people as a massive changed occurred in their politics, and I’m actually interested enough now to follow what’s happening next and wonder what his first measure will be! (never too late to get interested in the subject that you study at university…)