In five days, the first round. It's difficult to imagine what the coming days might bring, even though we can guess that they will not bring great changes. However, we can take a glance in the week's rear view mirror to see if anything has changed.
We have still seen very little substantive discussion. Only the long and interesting discussion with Francois Hollande in Mediapart on Friday night, which touched on tax issues and immigration, gave the impression that the real issues could have been addressed more often in this race.
By contrast, we were treated to a flood of images this week. First we got a glimpse of those candidates who were previously unknown to the public. If the rule of absolute equity has any purpose, it is that it allows us to discover so-called small candidates who have spent so little time in the public space that public opinion polls guarantee them some votes.
The revelation of the week was of course Philippe Poutou, who, with his sincerity, his simplicity, and his authenticity has brought a breath of fresh air into the conventional campaign season. This fresh air also came from the fact that no one expects him to assume any presidential responsibilities, nor does he seem to want them.
However, without giving in to populism, which is decidedly in fashion, we can still note that the words that were uttered this week by a Ford factory worker were given just as much prime time coverage as the outgoing president and his challenger. This was indeed unusual, and it gave a voice and face to millions of voters in this election. It would be demagogic to say that television is a reflection of the powerful, but it is also important to recognize that it often obscures the voices coming from outside the usual circle of actors, politicians, business leaders, heroes of American TV shows, athletes, and other rising or falling stars. So in terms of his candidacy, Poutou marked the week by triggering intense heat and sympathy within the French electorate.
On the journalist side, Franz-Olivier Giesbert was also noticed, but this time negatively, by unleasing a wave of fury on the Web. On the TV show "Des Paroles et Des Acts" ("Words and Actions") he engaged in a brutal and free execution of all the candidates - including the "small" ones - making people laugh but also making his condescension felt. He satirized all of the candidates... except one: Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he found to be "bon," but uncomfortable. But Giesbert went so far as to characteriz the candidate Sarkozy as "modest," which has raised some concerns about his editorial capabilities at Le Point!
But above all, to end our recap of this week's images, there were the weekend meetings, the final show of each camps strength which took place at the beach, a castle, and a historic square.
There was Prado beach, where Mélenchon, under the Saturday sun, ignited his supporters who may give him up to 17% of the vote. In the past several weeks, he has given us many opportunities to see the large and happy smile of someone who has gained more than 10 points in just a few months and hopes to give the left a new breath of life.
On Sunday, we moved back and forth between the Concorde and the Chateau de Vincennes.
Beyond Sarkozy's clever maneuver to burn Hollande for his politeness, it was quite interesting to compare the two candidates' styles, scripting, and crowd on that day.
Let's accept the figures given by both sides: around 100,000 people braved the mid-April cold to support their candidates on Sunday. I could point out that Mélenchon, according to his account, had a better day in Marseille on Saturday, but the sun probably helped his cause.
Nicolas Sarkozy had the crowd he had hoped for gathered in front of him at Place de la Concorde, one of the most grandiose places of Paris. This was the site of the Revolution, the memory of which the left has since abandoned to the right, just as the Gaullists seized the Champs Elysees on May 30, 1968.
The place is magical, and the UMP did not skimp on resources: it set up tents and bleachers just like the ones usually reserved for the July 14 parade, and captured the candidate's sound perfectly. The crowd, young-ish, neatly dressed, and whiter than mixed, was in good spirits.
At the Chateau de Vincennes, an austere fortress on the outskirts of Paris, Francois Hollande greeted a comparable audience. But the scenery was less lavish: the candidate's podium was exposed to the wind, half a door and half a wall took the place of background scenery, and the sound emanating from the speakers did little to encourage the crowd and was at times deafening. As for the crowd, it was different, waving various flags, its members seemed more popular and represented mixed skin tones.
Two pictures, two audiences, two styles too. Sarkozy seemed to be riding a galloping horse, trying to increase a gap with his rival which has already narrowed. He read his text at top speed, solemnly, like he was hurrying to finish. Perhaps hurrying to put an end to a campaign in which most of his staff members have stopped believing. His text referenced Molière, Voltaire, Chateaubriand, Peguy, Valmy, Napoleon, Aime Cesaire, de Gaulle, Zola, Victor Hugo, the Resistance, Jean Monnet and even our beloved Hugo. The only things missing were Clemenceau, the Bridge of Arcola and Antoine Pinay ...
That said, the speech was well built and carried a nice tone. Against softness and renunciation, in praise of schools, families, the nation's borders, the eternal France, and the future 30 glorieuses of the twenty-first century. It was the speech of a candidate who would never have been president and who dreams of returning France to its lost glory, who spoke of a future to be built rather than of a past we'd rather forget. And of course, since it had been at least two days since a new proposal had been made, he announced his plans to ask for increased support from the European Central Bank to aid French growth.
Francois Hollande's address was less vibrant. His speech was longer, calmer, no doubt less structured. He did not mention the Nation, but he spoke of France and the left. He promised not to mention his opponent much, but could not help but criticize him harshly. He invoked the France of 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871. The years of the revolutions. Then he referenced Blum, Mendes France "who accomplished in seven months more than others could in five years," and Mitterrand and Jospin, the only two who have governed from the left in eighty years.
Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande both called out a plea, but not the same one. "Help me," said Sarkozy. "Help France," and most of all, think of Mitterrand in his first round, said Hollande. One talked more about greatness, the other justice, this is the order of things. One praised the activists, alone on stage, then took a quick exit. The other gathered young socialists behind him and waited for the end of his campaign music to leave the stage. One seemed in a hurry to pack up his conquest, the other to show his confidence, and to recall his sixty measures. Both have appealed to courage: be not afraid, they will not win, Sarkozy said. Do not be afraid, we will win, said Holland.
All of these images will most likely have little impact on Sunday, April 22. And many of the real issues weighing on this election remain unanswered.
With just five days to go until the first round, for the first time in years, pollsters say that no one knows which of the top two candidates will come out on top. Similarly, no one can predict the finishing order of the two following candidates, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon, whose votes will be essential to carry one of the two finalists to victory.
Francois Bayrou is expected to come in around 10%, but much will depend on his constituents, in the first as well as the second round, as they allow themselves to be seduced by Sarkozy's sirens or frightened by the Melenchon's score
As for abstention, we have been told that it would benefit the right more than the left, but who really knows? Those who remain say their choice is final: but all this means is that they are less likely to change their minds than those who still claim uncertainty today.
This means, that with just a few days remaining until this critical day for France and for Europe, one can only on polls, which are often mistaken, on intuition, which is not a good guide, on oracles, who cautiously say nothing, or on journalists, who don't even know anymore! They will wait patiently for 20 hours to hear the results, before endlessly commenting on and explaining the eventual surprise. Until next Sunday then.