One Million Candidates

03/13/2014 09:12 am ET | Updated May 13, 2014
  • Jacques Attali Former top aide to French President Francois Mitterrand; Founding president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; President of PlaNet Finance

Nearly a million French men and women (nearly one out of every fifty adults) will be standing in the upcoming municipal elections. And they include, for the first time, women and men in almost equal numbers. This number is huge and warrants further attention. It is a treasure which must be protected.

At a time when all the « weak signals » lead us to think that French democracy is undermined, this commitment to citizenship is very welcome and must be preserved preciously. Indeed, democracy is threatened today by the way in which it is treated by each of us. It is discredited by the conducts of too many politicians, their taste for sound bites and their substandard combats. All too often the media deal with smaller weaknesses of democracies with less indulgence than they do with the turpitude of dictatorships. Too many citizens see in those they have elected only the profiteers, without wanting to commit themselves in public life. Too many voters finally are getting ready to refuse to use the privilege at hand, so rare in the world: to be able to vote freely in a free country.

The consequences are predictable, because they have already been experienced in France. We have seen, we will see and already see movements more or less seditionaries develop, outside unions and political parties, we see them take the lead of demonstrators and channel the indignation to promote their own ideals. We will see and already see elected officials and trade unionists, due to cowardice or opportunism, fall in line behind these movements, hoping to stay afloat on a torrent of mud. We have experienced it in 1940, and today it is back again, in relative terms, with the rallying of the Mayors and the Breton trade unionists in 'Bonnets Rouges' whose program challenges the very nature of the Republic.

Sheltering democracy is therefore of utmost importance. Means must be given to those who are standing, by the hundreds of thousands, for the coming local elections, to be and remain its front-line defenders. By first ensuring that the mayoral campaign holds on to its honor until the very end, so that this campaign would give a new impetus to dispassionate debates, for each municipality, with medium-term projects, that can be effectively implemented by stable teams, elected for six years, with people's main concerns in mind: employment, environment, housing, transportation, school, health, but also architecture, art, the peaceful way of life - and living together.

Secondly, how to ensure after the enactment of laws forbidding multiple office-holding and by creating the necessary pooling of several towns to form metropolitan and urban areas, that the country will not lose this tremendous potential for democracy that locally elected representatives constitute. Let's decide now to maintain, on the territory of each amalgamated town, a « local committee » to which significant powers of proximity may be delegated, without prejudice to the continuation of the great savings that these groupings make possible.

Finally, all candidates must be encouraged to join, before or after the municipal election, the ranks of the national parties, if they are to become major political forces, honestly funded by very many members, defending solely the general interests of the nation and able both to renew their representatives at various levels of the Republic, and to argue over important matters in every election and when the time comes to pool their efforts, in safeguarding the institutions. This is becoming more urgent every day. Because I firmly believe that one day, sooner than you may think, the bringing together of these forces, in the service of democracy, will be necessary, and that we might regret someday for not having constituted them.

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