I am having some trouble keeping up with the news about the French elections. My French is still not good enough to peruse Le Monde, and coverage is skant in English-language newspapers. But here is a primer.
The elections are on April 22. Without a majority on that date, which is highly likely, there will later be a runoff election of the top 2 candidates. There are 12 people running, although there are really only 3 major candidates.
Leading in the polls with about 30% of the vote is the center-right's Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister to current president Jacques Chirac. Chirac finally gave a tepid endorsement to Sarkozy, who on his part is the kind of insider candidate who claims to be an outsider, claiming that he will provide a break from current policies. Most recently he has been quoting Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech to talk about bringing hope to the impoverished Muslim communities outside of Paris where all the rioting happened a year ago; this is probably to soften his image, because he is seen as too aggressive and is typically compared to Stalin.
Ségolène Royal, the socialist candidate and the first female candidate of a major party in France, has around 25%. Royal has gotten caught up in Socialist party infighting and has run a campaign full of gaffes. There are also 6 people to the left of her who are running, and they are expected to siphon off some of her support.
In the last month the fortunes of a centrist, H. Ross Perot type-- except that he is a serious person, a farmer, schoolteacher and former education minister-- named François Bayrou have risen, and he now has about 20%. With the problems of the other major candidates, Bayrou has been advancing in the polls. Besides, the French view themselves as a rural country and they like electing people who know their way around a farm. But it isn't clear how he would put together a coalition if he wins.
No one has run a particularly inspiring campaign. Also running is the frightening right-wing nutcase Jean Marie Le Pen, who has about 10% of the vote.The French people that I work with grumble when I ask them about the election. They think that Sarkozy is going to win. The main issue on people's minds is France's economic malaise-- including talk of raising the minimum wage, various issues around EU requirements such as ending France's generous farm subsidies, etc. People seem to think Royal wouldnt do enough to help the economy, but on the other hand they think Sarkozy would be too harsh in implimenting new policies.