Sunday, May 06, 2007

Election Sunday...vive la France, vive la Republique!

7:00 pm. In one hour the elections results will be in. But first a little recap of the day...
This morning Colm and I went out to get a baguette, a couple of pain aux raisins, a chocolatine and a croissant. We swung by la poste to post a letter and I noticed that people were already showing up to vote.

So we went home, had breakfast and then I brought the kids back to the square in front of the hotel de ville were the voting sites are. While they played on their trottinettes, I sat on a bench and snapped a few shots of people coming and going. Turnout is supposed to be at an all time high today.

I have to say that I love the civic ritual of people coming the polls in person to cast their ballots. I notice people congregate sometimes as they run into one another in the square. They linger in conversation...I imagine they're talking about anything, perhaps politics but not necessarily. It's a Sunday, some of these people may be back in an hour to go to mass at the church which sits directly opposite the hotel de ville. I meet and chat with a couple of families I recognize from the kids' school.
I know that voting by mail has succeeded in increasing turnout (though not nearly as high as what we're witnessing here) in Oregon, but it I don't think we've filled the vacuum created by the loss of one more civic ritual, one more opportunity to reinforce the bond of citizenship that is supposed to unite us as participants in this experiment called democracy.
A sight that has begun to impress itself on both and me, elderly men and women on bicycles, inspires me to snap some furtive shots as I pretend to track my kids circling around the square.

In France they don't release exit poll data, the only thing they report during the day is the rate of voter turnout by such and such an hour compared to previous years elections.

7:40 pm Beth and I head upstairs to watch how French tv handles this event. The three major channels all have their own panels of pundits and politicos to hash over the tea leaves and rehash the speeches once their made. The production includes the standard live cameras in the respective campaign headquarters, the expectant crowds waiting for their standard matter what shot you're looking at however there is always in the corner of the screen a digital clock counting towards eight o'clock...the magic unveiling of the new president. What they're going to do is display a blank blue screen and then when the hour strikes the image of the sixth president of the Fifth Republic of France will materialize onscreen... it's a bit like a cross between New Years Eve and Survivor.

8:00 Remember, you may have heard it first here...Sarkozy's face came up. He got 53%. Royale got 47%. It's the third straight presidential defeat for the socialist party. The turnout...85%!
Colm, who is trying to grasp why we we're watching the television, keeps asking, "Who is the new prisoner? Is he the new prisoner?"
"President. Colm. He's the new the president."
Royale's face appears onscreen. "Is she the new prisoner?" he asks.
"No. Not her either."
"Who's the new prisoner?" Out of the mouths of babes...
Almost immediately one panel begins the dissection but before they can get too far into it it's time for Royale's concession speech. She delivers a somewhat wan, we'll get'em next time speech, that is both graceful without quite being gracious...she never mentions Sarkozy by name. After that, it's time to resume the post mortems...unfortunately, Sarkozy's car still seems to be blocks away from the hall where he is can't believe the way his car is surrounded by journalists on scooters, cameramen riding shotgun, literally weaving around the car reaching out to touch Sarkozy's car as if to press a microphone at the window which, amazingly, is open. Meanwhile someone is droning on about the need for a Christian Democrat remake of the left...and Colm and Tess are trying to headstands in my lap...politics must take a back seat to gymnastics for a bit.

8:20 Sarkozy gave his speech. He was scrupulous about being generous in victory. He sounded all the right notes of unity and conciliation, staying solidly on deeply universal themes. There was one moment that really struck my American ears. He referenced France's friendship with America and pledged that France would be true friend to America during his tenure, but then added the following (remember this guy ran as a right wing, free market American style candidate): "America is a great country but it needs to take seriously it's obligations in the global fight against global warming. I promise you that this will be one of France's highest priorities."
Maybe, but right now my highest priority is getting the kids to bed....later.


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