This is a sequel to my earlier diary entitled A Kossack running for public office in the South of France.
In short: this 59-year-old dual citizen (US/France) who left Los Angeles to semi-retire to a small village in the South of France right after the 2004 election was asked by one of the two candidates running for Mayor to join his slate of 14 other council members.
The elections were held yesterday and these are the official results:
- population of our village: 1123
- registered voters: 882
- votes cast: 611 (69.3% participation)
broken down as follows:
-- our slate: 301 (58%)
-- the competing slate: 218 (42%)
-- none of the above: 92
My comments and analysis below the mystic orange symbol...
The Two Slates:
Briefly, there were two competing slates of 15 councilmen each (including the Mayoral candidates). In our village, neither was affiliated with a political party, although villagers knew that our slate was more slanted to the left than the other slate.
Our slate had more people with professional experience and background, as well as more "newcomers" (relatively speaking) to the village. The other slate was more traditional, comprised of more well-known local names with roots in the community, but less outside professional experience.
According to local wise men, the two slates started with even odds, perhaps with a slight advantage to the other slate because of name recognition.
The campaign was mostly positive. Even barbed comments delivered by members of one slate aiming at the other were relatively tame and did not cross the line into outright lies and slander.
The other slate played the card: "we're children of the village, you know us you trust us" (implied: the other guys are not); out slate emphasized "we're competent, experienced and have the time to do the job" (implied: the other guys aren't and don't). To a large extent, both statements (positive and negative) were arguably correct.
Understandably, because of the size of our village, there was virtually no media coverage. Our slate mailed one flyer (2 pages of general principles / vision statement) the previous week, and distributed in mailboxes a second flyer (4 pages of actual proposals & concrete actions) last Thursday. The other slate only sent a one-page flyer with a very general / vague statement which boiled down to "we'll continue as before".
I think that may have played against them in the final run, as our list seemed better prepared to take action, especially in light of the ever-present threats of austerity (ie: cost cutting policies) from the Government.
There was also a lot of door-to-door visits, more by our side than the other, to counterbalance the "you don't know us" negative factor, which I think proved very useful.
The voting took place yesterday at the town hall from 8 am to 6 pm. People streamed in all day with their ID card. They picked up two bulletins (one for each slate) plus one envelope, went into a booth, discarded one bulletin, put the other one inside the envelope, sealed it, went to the table where their ID was checked against the local rolls, and dropped the envelope into a transparent plexiglass box.
At 6 pm, the voting stopped. Three table of four people each (selected from both slates) opened and counted about 200 envelopes each. The results were supervised & tabulated by the current Mayor & his deputies.
The final results were announced around 7:45 pm.
Our winning by so much surprised many people; those who thought we would win thought we'd reach 52% tops; we ended up with 58%.
We likely would have won by a few more points if the local elders of the once-and-still-powerful Socialist Party had not issued a general recommendation to vote "none of the above" (ie blank) because, for the first time in decades, the PS did not have an official slate running.
The local PS did try to get their own slate, but they could not find 15 people to make a proper slate; lack of motivation appears to have been the main reason for this failure. As a result, the local bigwigs, rather than endorsing our slate (which would have been arguably justified), recommended that their members vote blank.
There were 92 blank votes; normally they might have been less than 40; OTOH, they could have been twice as many, so the recommendation was not widely followed, and in the end proved rather petty and futile.
Because the other slate got 42% of the vote, they are entitled to 3 seats on the council (out of 15). So our slate's first 12 members (which include myself) will be seated, plus the top 3 members of the other slate.
The official seating takes place this Friday.
Our village, and indeed our region, is traditionally much more to the left than the rest of France. That said, the fact that both mainstream parties (left wing PS and right-wing UMP) appear to have endorsed/supported the same type of "liberal" (as they're called here, which means "austerity" or "conservative" in US terms) economic policies has driven a portion of the dissatisfied population to vote for the far-right-wing National Front as a protest vote.
The PS's policies being indistinguishable from the Right are not popular with their voters; and the UMP is mired in a series of political / corruption scandals of the "I'm above the law"-style. Hence the FN's appeal.
The French National Front is xenophobic and reactionary, but paradoxically borrows a number of his economic policies from the Old Left (state controls, nationalizations, etc.) a factor which IMHO is often underestimated outside of France. Old communist militants find an easier "home" in the National Front as opposed to the Socialist Party.
In political terms, the FN don't actually offer practical policies (except when it comes to boosting the police, etc.) but are now seen as a viable protest option. Hence their appeal in these local elections.
One might argue that, in our village, the local PS's inability to get a slate together is a micro-reflection of what I wrote above. But our people chose not to go for an unrealistic, xenophobic alternative, but trust apolitical people who put good will and experience above political labels. Good for them!
Now, the real work begins. Thank you all for your interest and any kossacks visiting Chalabre, or even interested in relocating there (I'm in charge of setting up a program to attract new residents) are very welcome to contact me through this site.