When I head out to the French Embassy in Georgetown, it’s typically for a cultural event or a reception. But tomorrow, I will join some 10,349* washingtoniens and washingtontoniennes on Reservoir Road to do my civic duty and vote in round one of the French Presidential elections. Unlike other French voters, expats on the American continent cast their ballots on Saturday, May 5 instead of Sunday May 6. If none of the candidates receive a majority of the votes in round one, we will have a round two between the top 2 candidates of the first round on April 21 in the US and April 22 everywhere else. My options tomorrow? 10 candidates, whose official platform I just received. Yes, 10. And yes, I received an official 4 pager from each of them so I can make an educated decision once I enter the polling booth.
|Only two of them will move on to the next round…
As voting day approaches and my elections sneak their way into the American media, I start having to justify some of the French system’s peculiarities. My husband, in particular, is quick to criticize. Though that might also be because I’ve been forcing him to watch the French informations every night since the campaign started… I must confess, he occasionally brings up a valid point. But I will rarely admit it 😉 As an expat and a representative of France abroad, I have to defend our way of doing things tooth and nails. I mean, if I don’t… who will? Besides, I have an interesting perspective on the elections. I first moved to Washington (during those glorious freedom fries days… let me tell you how fun those were… not) to study American elections. Unlike people who blindly mock something they have no understanding of, just because it’s different from what they know, I get both systems. I can appreciate what’s good in each, and deplore what’s bad in either. Fundamentally, both electoral systems are based on an underlying value. Americans value freedom of speech above everything else. The French value equality. It’s one third of our state motto (liberté, égalité, fraternité) and during the elections, it means the presidential candidates are treated equally. Any person who qualifies as a presidential candidate (that is any French citizen above the age of 18 whose candidacy has been endorsed by 500 French elected officials) is given the same opportunities to bring his or her message and ideas to the French people. But not by advertisement… that’s just a non-non in French elections. Instead, we prefer public affairs news programmings where the candidates debate journalists one after the other, and answer their questions.
During the “official campaign,” (April 9th through April 22nd for the first round) the candidates are garanteed equal funding as well as equal time on TV and on the radio. That last one is strictly enforced by a government agency, of course. Because if the French believe in égalité they also believe in big government 😉 And we believe in telling people what not to do. Candidates can’t talk smack about their opponent. French media are prohibited from publishing polls or exit poll results between midnight on the Friday preceding election day until all voting stations have closed on Sunday. My husband definitely has a hard time with that. But can you imagine… no speculating banter on the news during election day… no negative ads (heck, no ads at all…)? I think it’s rather refreshing. Elections can get so nasty here 😦 At the same time, the French lawscan seem a bit obsolete in the days of the internet. Candidates have facebook pages now and twitter accounts. They can use those to communicate directly with their supporters, though they’re not as useful to reach undecided electeurs. Journalists and news outlets have twitter accounts too. It’s going to be increasingly hard to keep the results from leaking before 8PM Sunday… especially since foreign media does not have to abide by the same laws…
Whether twitter ruins the French elections or not, I hope you’ll follow the race once it’s been narrowed down from the ten current hopefuls to the two finalists. But most importantly, I hope you’ll keep an open mind. It’s OK to be different… as individuals and electoral systems 😉
* official number of French citizens registered to vote in the circonscription of Washington, D.C.