By Olivia Walters, Staff Writer
Although the recent U.S. election is at the forefront of most Furman students’ minds, other presidential elections are underway across the Atlantic. The upcoming French presidential election may prove to be just as contentious as its American counterpart. Furman faculty and students weighed in on their takes of the race to the presidency. Interview responses in this article were translated from French.
“It’s true that the president elected in the United States and the one in France will be brought to work together. Therefore I think it’s important that Americans know what’s happening,” Dr. Marianne Bessy said. “The president elected in France will be a player in the world’s political scene. It’s important.”
Bessy, a French professor within the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures is trying to make her students more aware of the politics in France. Bessy is currently teaching an upper level class on the current political scene.
In 2012, President François Hollande began his five-year term as a member of the Socialist Party. Hollande announced last December that he would not run for a second term.
Last November, France debuted its election season by hosting two rounds of Republican presidential primaries, in which former Prime Minister François Fillon took the win over former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Fillion recently came under fire for allegedly embezzling close to $1 million from the public payroll. The New York Times wrote that he is accused of paying his wife, who works for him as a parliamentary assistant, taxpayer money. Fillion is denying all charges.
French voters returned to the polls Jan. 29 to decide the final left presidential nomination, situating Benoit Hamon as the new candidate for the Socialist Party. He is up against candidates like Marine Le Pen of the Front National and Emmanuel Macron of the independent party En Marche!. Nothing is certain until voters choose their president April 23. Numerous minority parties are also presenting themselves in the open race. If no candidates win the majority on that date, a second round will occur two weeks later.
Meredith Stickels, a sophomore French major from Alpharetta, Georgia, is currently enrolled in Bessy’s class and lives in the French House on campus.
“I like it. I think it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences between our two governments,” Stickels said about the politics course. “Especially with Trump in office it will be interesting to see how the extreme right does in the [French] election.”
Of the crucial issues at the forefront of this French campaign season, certain polarities are forming among concerned citizens. One stems from the conservative reaction to Socialist Hamon’s proposed universal income, a plan to gradually allocate adults fixed sums of money. His competitors claim that this raises the country’s debt and relies too heavily on taxpayer money. Hamon supports that a universal income will even out social inequalities.
On the subject of immigration, Marine Le Pen of the National Front fervently aims to legally suppress it altogether. Le Pen believes in fighting terrorism at the borders and boosting national security. Her far-right ideals echo President Trump’s anti-immigration stances. Le Pen denounced public backlash to his travel ban as a sign of “bad faith,” according to CNN.
A third major topic appearing among the parties is related to ecology. For some, like Green Party candidate Yannick Jadot, Europe needs to focus on decreasing its carbon levels and shift towards renewable energy from wind turbines.
Retirement age, refugees, unemployment, cannabis, France’s role in the European Union, gay marriage, abortion and agriculture are also sparking important discussions in the race to April.
In addition to the various issues in the election, intriguing key differences between presidential elections in France and the United States should be noted.
Electoral College, absentee voting and the vice president:
French voters elect their leaders directly by universal suffrage, while in the U.S., the Electoral College process chooses the president out of a majority vote from 538 electors.
Concerning absentee voting, American citizens have the right to vote electronically or by mail in a presidential election if they are not inside the States. This system is not permissible in France. Fanny Tanguy, the French assistant at Furman, described her own experience: “You have to trust the person voting for you.” Before coming to Furman, Tanguy signed a proxy authorizing her father to vote on her behalf at the police station.
Finally, there is no vice president in France, although the closest equivalent is the Prime Minister, who is nominated by the President.
Costs of the electoral campaign:
Another difference between the two countries is how much money is raised in the process of running a campaign. In the United States, numbers reported via the Federal Election Commission on the Washington Post last December confirmed that Trump raised $932.3 million for his campaign. On the other hand, French candidates are not expected to spend enormous amounts of money. Instead, they rely on a system of sponsorship through signatures obtained by representatives in at least 30 departments.
Prior political experience:
To the surprise of some French citizens, U.S. presidents have been elected even without political experience. Conversely, movie stars and T.V. celebrities would not typically aspire to work in politics in France, since most people who serve the public are educated in elite schools.
Amidst each candidate’s controversial agenda, the French presidential elections is keeping the world, and the French community at Furman, on the edge of their seats.