Thursday, March 27, 2014

A little bit Frencher

Photo: Heading out to vote in France for the first time! 

"Voting is a right. It is also a civic duty" - so it says on the French electoral card. The problem being, I basically don't have the right to vote pretty much anywhere. New Zealand is holding elections this year, but because I haven't been back home in the last three years, I can't vote in them. I can't vote in British elections because, bar a few months here and there, I've never been a resident, and I can't vote in French national elections because I'm not a citizen.

So that leaves the local French elections, and the EU elections, and I duly signed up to have my say. It doesn't bother me so much that I can't vote at home - I know who I'd vote for (or, rather, against - bye bye John Key), but I don't really bother keeping up with what's happening, and it doesn't seem that fair to expect a say in what's going on in a country I haven't set foot in for 4 1/2 years. Still less in the case of Britain: I may be a citizen, and probably actually know a bit more of the current events there since I read The Guardian religiously, but as I said, I've never really lived there and have no real plans to do so. But it does bother me having no influence on policies in France that affect my daily life. It doesn't seem fair that the French living permanently in London or wherever get the right to vote, but people living here legally for years can't. And if the threatened UK referendum on whether to stay in the EU ever does go ahead, I seriously hope I get a vote on that!

Now, hypocritically, given what I just said about wanting to influence policies that affect me, I don't really follow French politics that closely either. If it doesn't crop up in the free newspapers that I read on the train in the morning, basically I won't know about it. So it was a rather underinformed Gwan who toddled off to a local primary school on Sunday morning to cast my vote for the next mayor of Metz. I hadn't bothered looking into anyone's policies, so my strategy was just to vote for the party I think most favourably of.

But first I had to learn how to vote in France. There was a trestle table set up with sheets of paper representing every party running in the elections. I assumed this was just one last chance at electioneering, in case you were undecided as to who to vote for. But when I handed over my electoral card and ID to the volunteer, she explained to me that I should take copies of the papers from the table, go into the voting booth, and put the paper representing the candidates of my choice into the envelope. Confused, I confirmed with her, "I don't write anything on the paper?" Nope, no ticking or crossing needed, just stick it in. Obviously then, if you want to vote for one candidate for mayor, you have no choice about electing the other councillors, it's all or nothing from one party.

As I gathered up the papers and headed to the small, curtained voting booth, I heard the volunteers whispering "New Zealand", "Yes, I saw" to each other. I think it's a safe bet that I was the only New Zealander voting that day in suburban Metz!

By the way, I was a bit concerned I wouldn't be able to vote because both my passports are off for renewal at the moment (irritatingly, to renew my British passport, they make you send in any other passports you have as well). But I was able to use my French driver's licence, despite it having "this is not ID" written right on it. 

As I said, I hadn't researched the candidates before heading to the polling station. I had assumed it would be pretty obvious who I wanted to vote for though. Instead, I had to go through all the papers twice before I was sure I was picking the right one. I had expected big logos of each political party, but in most cases the full name was just written at the top. Since the main parties are normally referred to in the press by their initials or in shorthand - UMP (Sarkozy's lot) or PS (Hollande's crew), the full names (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire and Parti Socialiste - although I'm sure there was a longer name for the PS on the voting papers) didn't really leap off the pages at me and I was a bit nervous I'd accidentally vote for the wrong party. Just as long as I didn't accidentally vote for the Front National though!

Paper duly in the envelope, it was back to the desk to drop my envelope into the "urn" (aka plastic box), as one of the volunteers ceremoniously pronounced "a voté" (has voted). I half wished there was someone there to snap a picture of my first time voting, politician-styleez, but no. The final step was signing the register to show I'd voted and getting my elector card and ID back.

And there you go, my first time voting in France, I feel a little bit Frencher for it. That was only the first round. Since no-one got a majority of the votes, this Sunday there is the runoff between the candidates for the UMP, the PS and the Front National. Alarmingly, the far-right FN got 21% of the vote, with the UMP and PS separated by just one point, at 34 at 35% respectively. Also on Sunday is the Malaysian Grand Prix, so I'll have to bestir myself to get out and vote afterwards. This time, I'll be an old pro. I might even have a quick read of the candidates' policies ;)


  1. But then would it be possible to put two slips of paper in the envelope?

    1. I assume that would be considered a spoiled ballot, like if you tIcked two candidates on a form. You can also "voter blanc" ie put nothing in the envelope, or maybe a white bit of paper. At my old job, they for some reason made us all vote to confirm the new unit head. The majority of us voted blanc and she was so pissed off she didn't take the job. Which was stupid and petty if you ask me, since I for one had never met the woman, so of course I didn't vote "yes" or "no".

    2. Take the biggest bribe!

  2. Yay for voting. A little scary that the FN did that well...yikes!

    1. Yep, the PS won the second round though.

  3. You have to be resident in the UK to vote there?

    Four 1/2 years! That's a really long time. I had a couple of times when I didn't go back to Canada for three years and I thought that was long!

    I think the French system where you pick a paper is a good idea. That way you there is no confusion with ticks and crosses. The envelopes need to be bigger though - the papers were too big and the envelopes were falling apart from people stuffing these big papers in them.

    My town voted in the same major in the premier tour so it was all over for me in the first week. No, I don't actually live in Bordeaux but a suburb right beside Bordeaux and my town voted in the same guy on the premier tour just like Bordeaux did.

    Something I did notice about the FN, though - there is much less support for the FN in the south-west of France than out in eastern France. I wonder why this is? Do you have any ideas? In my town they didn't even get enough support to present themselves for election.

  4. What's with Hollande giving his (ex) partner a top job??!!


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