Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dispatch 2 from Athens

I'm a bit out of touch here in Athens, where it isn't easy to find a French newspaper, but I gather that the PS collective leadership has repudiated Royal's overture to Bayrou and that Bayrou hasn't returned her call. This is a stunning disavowal of the candidate and titular party leader by her comrades, whose hostility, open enough during the campaign, can no longer be disguised as mere tactical divergences. Since Royal presumably still enjoys the backing of a majority of party members, the question of the future of the PS becomes more urgent than ever.

I'm not sure I'll have access to a computer over the next few days and will probably be more out of touch still, but stay tuned.

Thanks to Cindy for her informative post.

From "La Dalle" (Cindy Skach)

Dispatch from “la dalle” (Cindy Skach)

Surrounded by an entourage of Parisian journalists and local teenagers, François Hollande walked through the “dalle” this morning, Argenteuil’s now rather famous housing complex. Hollande came to support Faouzi Lamdaoui, the Socialist Party’s candidate in this 5th district of Val d’Oise, one of the five key races in France, according to L’Express (June 7, 2007). Although Royal received 58% of the vote here last month, the first round of the legislative elections saw the incumbent, Georges Mothron (UMP), win the plurality. The turnout rate this time, unlike that for the presidential elections, was disappointingly low.

Next Sunday this district will hold an interesting runoff, Lamdaoui v. Mothron, where much will depend upon whether people here show up to express their democratic voice. It was here in 2005 that Sarkozy, during his own visit to the “dalle,” referred to some of the local youth, many of them from immigrant, and Muslim, backgrounds, as “scum.” This district was previously held by Robert Hue (PC). If Lamdaoui now wins this seat, he may well be the first Muslim from metropolitan France to enter the National Assembly, again putting Argenteuil on the map.

Hollande has come, at Lamdaoui’s invitation, to visit neighborhood associations here, to learn about the real challenges this district faces. But he is also here to encourage people to get out and vote. While they walk underneath the ash colored buildings, an elderly woman shouts out from the back of the crowd, “I voted for you, Faouzi!” Lamdaoui stops suddenly and turns back to greet this woman, as journalists trip over one another, and the local kids try to avoid being filmed. Faouzi, a quiet and reflective man of Algerian background, a fourth-generation engineer, is hoping that citizens of Argenteuil will turn out on Sunday, rather than choose the “exit” strategy many of them took for the first round of this crucial race, or the more “radical voice” strategy some of them took last year.

Dispatch from Athens

Here in the cradle of democracy, it seems appropriate to reflect a moment on the subject. After the presidentials, pundits were quick to pronounce that the health of French democracy had been restored, primarily because of the 85 percent participation rate. In the first round of the legislatives, however, democracy would seem to have relapsed, as the participation rate plummeted to 60 percent, low by historical standards even for a legislative election.

The doctors of democracy need to add a few instruments to their medical bag--a stethoscope, at least, to go along with the thermometer of the participation rate. The plebiscitary temptation has always been strong in France, and the "presidentialization" of the Sarkozyan Republic, much remarked upon, can only reinforce this predilection. A substantial segment of the electorate seems content to say, "We've put things in your lap for now, give us some results, and we don't care how." The appeal from the left and center to apply some checks and balances for the health of the regime seems not to have carried much weight with these voters. Une chambre bleu horizon is now assured. The historical reference is to the post-World War I chamber, to which so many veterans were elected that when they sat in their sky-blue uniforms, the chamber took on that color. Now the blue comes not from the sky or the uniform but from the UMP.

Meanwhile, the split in the Socialist leadership seems to be deepening, with Royal calling for an alliance with MoDem and Hollande openly differing. To comment on this would require more time than I have available. I am on vacation, after all. But perhaps one of the guest bloggers would like to take up this theme.

A bientot.