When in Paris last week, I met with French friends who could talk of little else than the coming election of their President. It is a pitched battle, with Socialist Hollande favored to unseat incumbent Sarkozy, but not favored by much and all seemed to agree that the polls may be wrong whatever they say.
I'm told this Wednesday's debate was so important to the French population, streets were deserted as people sat at home watching the verbal duel on television. This campaign has not been based on polite conversation: Sarkozy has stated that Hollande is incompetent and a liar. Hollande has called Sarkozy a "failed president" and a "nasty piece of work."
Each man is fighting for his political life and for Hollande to unseat Sarkozy will be a stunning turn of events for Europe in the midst of financial crisis, a stalled economy, and general downturn across Europe, with major economic problems in Greece, Spain and Italy.
A wild card in the election is the position of Marine Le Pen, the far right wing politico who garnered a whopping 18% of the French vote in the first round of voting. She is the one who has decried what she calls the "Islamification" of France and is openly anti-immigrant, among other strongly held views. Where her supporters place their votes is anyone's guess, since she has not endorsed wither Sarkozy or Hollande.
In my conversation with French friends, they seem shocked that Sarkozy can be turned out of office but agree that there are many who truly hate him and don't care who is put in his place so long as he is brought down. I discussed the fact that President Obama suffers from the same kind of strong feeling among voters who simply want him replaced, not caring by whom. In recent articles in the New York Times and elsewhere, some voters have openly commented on racial bias playing a role in the enmity towards Obama. That is not the case with Sarkozy, although there are those who cite the fact that his father was Hungarian, his mother half Greek Jewish, half French.
Mostly, though, both elections indicate the strong feelings of populations dissatisfied with the tough state of affairs around the world and especially at their own front door. In the case of the French, it is estimated that nearly 80% of them will go the voting booth this Sunday to decide their election. I imagine the number of voters in the US will be considerably smaller (in 2008, it was 60+%) and that's a shame. The selection of the person who will sit in the Oval Office for the next four years is of importance to everyone in America and all of us of voting age should be taking part in the conversation about just who that person will be.