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The French Connection

Local expats sweat weekend vote.

Francis Plourde 4 May

Francis Plourde is on staff at The Tyee.

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French citizens in Vancouver will turn their attention home this weekend, as the European state runs the second round of one of its most followed elections in decades.

At stake is the future of a country not well adapted for the global economy. More than nine per cent of working age French are jobless. And tensions in the largely immigrant suburbs, which boiled over into riots almost two years ago, are rising again.

Those tensions played themselves out in the last election five years ago, when Jean-Marie Le Pen, a far right politician who advocates immigration restrictions and the death penalty, made it into the second round.

Le Pen’s success in 2002 caught the international media by surprise, and left the French to choose between two right wing candidates, Le Pen and the incumbent Jacques Chirac.

French electors have traditionally voted for the party they really want in the first round, regardless of their chance at victory. Le Pen, who won just 16 percent of the vote in the first round, made it into the run-off on a combination of voter apathy and left wing vote splitting.

Thanks to Le Pen, that may be changing. “[The results in 2002] changed the way I vote. Instead of voting for a small party that I want to support, I voted strategically,” said Stéphanie Palisse a French teacher living in Vancouver.

Véronique Crozier is another expat living in B.C. Like many, she did not vote in 2002 and was dumfounded when Le Pen made it to the second round. “I cried when I saw the results of the first round,” she wrote on her blog. “I left France 11 years ago, and I found myself doing my civic duty for the first time since then.”

Crozier, and many others like her, made sure Le Pen did not advance this year.

84.6 percent of registered voters – the largest turnout since the sixties – cast their ballots two weeks ago. As a result it is the two frontrunners, Nicolas Sarkozy of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) and Ségolène Royal of the French Socialist Party (PS) who will face off this weekend’s second round.

A long-time politician and former interior minister, Sarkozy is considered the frontrunner. “Sarko”, as he is often called, wants to push for a more liberalized economy. But his fierce, somewhat authoritative personality might work against him. Royal, on the other hand, is the first woman to reach the run-off in a French presidential election. A left-wing politician, she is known for her admiration of third way policies.

The presidential election, held every five years, is the only one where the about one million French citizens living abroad can vote. There are 3463 voters officially registered with the French consulate in Vancouver. Of those, 1001 – or 28.9 percent – voted in the first round, five percent more than in 2002.

In France, political debate is a sport for many. “Here, we follow it, but it’s less passionate,” said Julien Capraro, who moved to Vancouver a year ago. “My close friends are not pro-Sarkozy, so we don’t really debate. ”

To follow the elections online, go to this website or follow this blog.

To read more about the reaction of Vancouverites who will vote on Saturday, go here or there.  [Tyee]

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