07 May 2012

François Hollande just elected president of France

François Hollande
He couldn't get elected president of the US!

The way the presidential election in France is run is so different from how it's done in the States, I won't attempt to describe it.  This is the second I've watched and I just keep discovering differences.  Among many differences: 80% participation!  Maybe I can find someone who really understands the process who can write it up for Americans.

Instead I'll pass along a little about the man just elected president that may give you a clue as to how much France differs from the US.  None of this is secret, but common knowledge in France.

The first strike against him is that he is president of the leftist Socialist Party.  Worse, he's proud of it and hopes to lead France (and the rest of Europe) towards a more just way of running the government.

Ségolène Royal
However, it's his personal life that would keep him from even getting nominated in the States.  He's the father of four children by a woman that he wasn't married to.  Curiously, the woman he then lived with and who is the mother of his children was the previous Socialist candidate for the presidency of France.  She lost the election five years ago to the man he just beat.  That she was the unmarried mother of four was no more a factor in the election she lost  in 2007 than that he is the unmarried father of four is a factor in this election.  Hard to imagine an unmarried father of four being nominated for president by a major party in the US, let alone getting elected.  

Valerie Trierweiler
A minor issue for him in this election is that he lives with a journalist who was a successful reporter of French politics; that might lead to conflicts of interest all around.  She's a feisty gal and independent and has said that being First Lady of France will be a secondary role for her, that she'll continue to work, so that she and her kids are not living off someone else.  Apparently they'll get married if his marital status is a problem for foreign dignitaries.

Other non-issues in the French election:
* Women's right to choose
* Sex education and free access through the school nurse to contraceptives and the morning-after pill in public schools
* Continued abolition of the death penalty
* Whether a candidate is a practicing Christian or even believes in God
* Homosexual marriage (still not allowed, but on its way to becoming legal)

The main issues were purchasing power and restarting the French economy.  An issue that some candidates, including the outgoing President, tried to make important was immigration, particularly illegal immigration, hoping to address (or create) French anxiety over people with a different skin color, accent, and culture.

What would provoke endless gossip and scandal in the US doesn't mean a thing to the French, and they don't understand Americans' preoccupation with personal matters that have little do with running a country;


  1. Harvey,
    I wish I could find the the time to write a line or two about this election and explain French socialism to your readers.
    It's really a good point highlighting that "private life" stands for what it is in Frenc politics, PRIVATE. A good case in point is the DSK affair. It revealed that lot a journalists suspected that DSK loved being a "libertin" but no one ever dared to write a line about it because what politics do with their lives is their business. Now, things will probably evolve: high profile politics may get some more thorough vetting but it will never get to the level of what is done in the US.

    1. It think it was Sarkozy who opened Pandora's box and I suspect that what I perceived as his juvenile pleasure at being president cost him the election.

    2. CCharles - DSK lost any chance at being nominated when he had those problems in the USA. So private life DOES make a difference in how politicians are viewed in France.

  2. "... [the French] don't understand Americans' preoccupation with personal matters that have little do with running a country."

    This is a very insightful observation.

    Couple it with the fact Americans seem to get riled up at the mention of a "socialist" running a country. I can't imagine what folks in the US will think if Greece ends up being run by a coalition of three parties who's flags have the hammer and sickle prominently displayed.

    I see the French are proud of leaders who work hard for the benefit of all. I see the French wonder why the US accepts being run by two political parties who's primary interests lay in business, corporations, and banks, not in furthering the interests of nor providing benefit for their citizens.

    What I found incredible was that Hollande and Sarkozy sat down for a serious televised debate. They went at each other for three uninterrupted hours! 3/4's of all French households tuned in. No commercial breaks. No potty breaks. Just facts, figures, subtle and not so subtle taunts/jibes/attacks, and lots of positioning based on ideology.

    Not one mention of "faith". I found it wonderful.

  3. There are a lot of French who think there's a lot of France's leaders who have not "work hard for the benefit of all." I wonder if that's one of the reasons Sarkozy lost - he was seen as too pleased to be able to hob-nob with the rich and powerful and to further their interests. France has long been a country where a lot of money passed under the table, but a period of transparency may be beginning. However, you're right that the presidential debate and in fact the entire campaign seem much more useful and enlightening than what happens in the US.

    1. True. Former President Bling Bling really shot himself in the foot. I remember when he first said he was going into "retreat" to a quiet place after he was elected, then proceeded to throw several hugely expensive parties instead. Going to a quiet place seemed to given him a bit of respect. But then to hang out with billionaires and business people rather then do what he said he'd do... well... you're likely right. Wait! I know!! Sarko did not like French wine and drinks cola. Eek! If that wouldn't do a president in, I don't know what would... :-)