François Hollande casting his (pretty important, considering how close the race was) vote.
There are times when all of France fairly hums with enthusiasm, speculation, and hope. Today was one of those days.
The second round of France’s presidential elections sent people out to vote. Candidates Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande were like night and day – Sarkozy standing behind his conservative, pro-austerity, anti-immigrant policies, Hollande backing increased government spending in areas where it’s needed, like education, and even promoting the idea of giving immigrants the right to vote. Then again, for many people, Hollande’s policies didn’t matter so much as his not being Sarkozy, a President many see as a failure in terms of taking France out of the financial crisis, and forceful, even dictator-like, having gone so far as getting journalists fired for not supporting him.
This afternoon, the boyfriend and I spent some time with our friends Juliette and Arthur, who, like my boyfriend, had just voted. “Don’t ask them who they voted for - that's private,” the boyfriend told me as we walked towards where we were meeting them. I rolled my eyes – what did he think, just because I’m American I have no discretion whatsoever?
A few minutes later, after saying our hellos, Juliette breathlessly turned to my boyfriend. “So,” she said, “who did you vote for?”
This was an election people were excited about. Many Hollande supporters believe he’d be able to make a difference in just about every aspect of life in France. Many Sarkozy supporters believe he’s the one who would keep France’s spending, and thus debt, down. Each kind of supporter found it scary to think about what could possibly happen if the opposing candidate were to win.
“People would run out into the streets,” one of my students told me fearfully earlier this week. “You do know what Hollande is going to do if he gets elected,” she went on, her voice full of dread. “He’s going to let immigrants vote!”
I held back a laugh and a protestation all at once. My perplexity helped; I’d been working with this student for several years, so obviously she knew that I am an immigrant. But I think her terror just got the better of her.
From the people I’ve spoken with, it really did seem like it was going to be a close race, even though the press and most of those same people, regardless of who they were voting for, figured Hollande’s victory was assured.
A few minutes ago, it was announced that the speculation was right – no “Dewey Beats Truman” situation for France this time around. But it was really close in the end: 51.9% of the vote for Hollande versus 48.1% for Sarkozy.
We watched the results at our friends’ apartment in the 20th arrondissement, a fascinating area
that’s a mix of the very wealthy, immigrants from around the globe, and residents of project housing. When we saw that Hollande had won, the boyfriend told us to listen to the noise outside. We opened the window and I was astonished to hear cheers going up from all the buildings around us. People on the streets were shaking hands. Cars raced by, horns beeping. You’d have thought France had won the World Cup again.
I’m writing this from their apartment, and the cheers and honking are still sporadically going up, nearly half an hour after the results were announced. Sarkozy is on TV, speaking to his devastated supporters, his speech now and then drowned out by the commotion outside.
The noise is most likely not the same on the streets of the richer neighborhoods in Paris, although even some of those people may have voted Hollande. The air feels full of change and promise. The Left is in power after seventeen years.
It may not end up meaning much at all, of course. I’m personally far too jaded to believe politicians’ promises before an election. And I don’t think all of the people cheering are doing it for purely idealistic reasons. As another friend we spoke to put it, “Oh no, we can’t have another five years of Sarkozy.”
but an intelligent speaker, he’s a Socialist, he didn’t try to find some excuse to be in Paris for his victory but chose to stay in the backwoods town of Tulle, where his offices as Deputy of the National Assembly and President of the General Council of the Corrèze region are located. A humble, intelligent man from the Left – very refreshing. And if you like scandal, rest assured: Sarkozy had his troubled marriage, then divorce, then remarriage to a supermodel. Already, François has reconciled with his ex-wife*, 2007 French Presidential candidate Ségolène Royale and she will probably be a member of his cabinet. And his girlfriend, Valérie Trierweiler, is pretty enough that some are saying she easily fills Carla Bruni's shoes. So there’s an interesting element there, too. Something for everyone.
I’m no expert in any way, shape, or form when it comes to politics, and I don’t know what will happen during this presidency. People have said national debt will increase, as will taxes. Others point out, on the other hand, that there will be more freedom than under Sarkozy’s rule, and perhaps changes to controversial laws the latter put into motion. Only time will tell. For now, as an immigrant and someone who really, really didn’t like most of what Sarkozy stood for, I just might stick my head out of the window and add to the cheers.
*UPDATE: I'm surprised I didn't know this - I guess it's due to the French way of being so nonchalant about people's personal lives, but though they lived together in a committed relationship for a long time and have children together, Ségolène Royale was never Hollande's wife. Also, to be clear - they "reconciled" in the let's-be-friends-and-stop-hating-each-other way, not in the let's-get-back-together way.