What you need to know about the French elections.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
April 13 2007 4:50 PM

Sarko, Ségo, or Bayrou?

What you need to know about the French elections.

Segolene Royal. Click image to expand.
Ségolène Royal

France is about to enter a new era. With 74-year-old President Jacques Chirac—the last of Charles de Gaulle's protégés—retiring after 12 years in office, a new generation is set to take over. The first round of voting, on April 22, will be a three-way tussle involving Socialist Ségolène Royal, conservative former Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, and moderate François Bayrou. (Far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen is currently polling at about 15 percent.)

Eight other candidates—including Communists Olivier Besancenout and Marie-George Buffet, Green Dominique Voynet, and anti-globalization activist José Bové—will join the four front-runners in Round 1. If no candidate gets 50 percent or more, the top two vote-getters will advance to Round 2 in May.


More than ever before, this campaign is long on style and short on substance. All three main candidates have attempted to boost their popularity with puffy, best-selling manifestos. Bayrou hawked Project of Hope, which is almost exactly like that other book, except Bayrou is not black, not American, and not running for president … of the United States. Royal wrote Now, while Sarkozy laid out his personal and political agenda in Together.

Sarkozy has also taken advantage of his country's current—and très American—obsession with its politicians' love lives by publishing Testimony, which details, among other topics, his stormy relationship with his unfaithful wife, Cécilia. (Testimony is the only one of the main candidates' books available in English.) A few romans à clef delving into the Sarkozys' marriage have also become best sellers in France.

Meanwhile, rumors are flying that Royal has broken with her longtime love (but not hubby), Socialist Party Secretary General François Hollande. Since she has already been plagued by some laughable gaffes—such as seeming to call for Quebec's independence and believing the Taliban still rule Afghanistan—more personal revelations can only reinforce the media's perception that Royal is not a "serious" candidate.

This election cycle, French voters seem to be turning to the Internet in greater numbers. You can find YouTube videos full of "macaca" moments à la française. Smart blogs, including one written by the smoldering grandson of former Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France, cleverly call out the candidates' faux pas, while this silly time-waster makes an animated Sarkozy disco on your command.

French musicians are jumping in as well, joining together in a sort of "Rap the Vote" initiative designed to increase political involvement among France's disaffected youth. The effort seems to be working: Voter registration is up in depressed areas most affected by last year's violent riots, double the national average.

But beyond the campaign fluff of best sellers, blogs, and blunders, something deeper is happening in French politics.

Every night, Les Guignols de l'Info(picture TheDaily Show performed by puppets) lampoons the increasingly polarized and vicious tone of the election and the fact that politicians are playing nonstop to voters' baser instincts.



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.