It's election time in France, something I have a lot of difficulty following. So you can learn along with me. This year, what's at stake are the presidencies of each of France's 26 regions. These aren't parliamentary positions but the regions do administer large budgets for transportation, economic development, and education. And at the moment, it's also seen as a referendum on the performance of Sarkozy and his party, the UMP, even though some of the big issues on his plate -- unemployment, reform of the national retirement system, the public debt -- are only marginally linked to the issues in the regionales.
The voting is done in two rounds with voters making choices among lists of regional counselors put forward by all the various political parties. The first round was Sunday and the UMP got its butt kicked everywhere. Overall, the UMP had between 26.5 and 27.3 percent of the votes, depending upon the region; the Socialist party (PS) racked up between 28.4 and 30 percent of the vote. Alarmingly, Jean-Marie Le Pen's far right Front Nationale (FN) party did much better than expected with 11.6 to 12 percent of the votes. And everyone's also pretty alarmed that more than 50 percent of voters stayed home, tired and fed up with the whole thing. Sound familiar to anyone?
This week, everyone's in a scurry to regroup. Parties that got at least 10 percent of the votes carry through to the second round; those with more than 5 percent can ally with a qualifying party. It all goes to a second vote on Sunday.
Here are some of the folks still in the running in Ile de France:
Jean-Paul Huchon, candidate for the PS, and current president of the regional council for the Ile de France.
Wunderkind Cécile Duflot (she's just 34) for the Green Party which finished surprisingly strong in the first round.
Marie-Christine Arnautu for the FN. Born in France to Romanian parents, she's holding the anti-immigrant banner for the far right. Doesn't anyone see the irony here?
Valérie Pécresse, the current minister of higher education, is the UMP's candidate. Almost all the ministers hold some additional office. Hard to imagine for Americans as this would be kind of like being secretary of education and governor of a state at the same time.