Monday, March 15, 2004

Poll Time

Our town goes to the polls soon for the regionals; with half of France voting on the 21st and the rest on the 28th. I have watched with interest the build up to the elections. Alas, I can’t vote not being a French citizen. Neither can I participate in the forthcoming Indian polls, them being limited to Government of India employees who can cast their vote at their nearest Indian embassies. That effectively rules A and me out.

For weeks now, party workers have been handing out flyers to the public, mainly at the Gare (station) and at the marchés (local markets). The well funded ones employing people to do their distribution while the poorer ones doing their own distribution. The flyers too differ in the quality. Glossy, multicoloured many pages flyers with prominent photos for the rich parties contrasting with the cheap Black and white A4 xeroxes of the poor ones. Most parties also carry photos and words of ‘soutien’ or support of their party bigwigs in favour of the local candidates. For example, the UMP-UDF candidate of our town has the support of Jean François Copé who is the porte-parole (spokesperson) of UMP (Chirac’s party). These differences apart, most carry their agenda, their concrete goals with respect to chief concerns like unemployment, housing, education, security, transport, taxes etc.

The real worry here is not enough people voting. (No fear of that in India, is there? Never a vote wasted!). There have been several TV campaigns asking people to cast their vote and refrain from abstaining. Debates range on how to get people to vote. A popular satire had this innovative and possibly successful idea if ever it could be carried out: A gorgeous lady intones in a husky voice ‘I like a man who votes’!! The ladies have their enticement in the form of a hunk rasping out ‘I love a woman who votes’ and in a theatrical aside ‘I also love a woman who cooks and cleans’!!!

Bernard Kouchner founder of 'Medecins sans Frontieres' suggested making the vote obligatory as in Belgium and a few other countries. Others differ. Despite voting made obligatory, there is as much as 10% abstention in these countries with people preferring to pay fines up to 100E rather than make the trip to the booth.

Yesterday in a panel discussion on TV, a panelist said its not as if the French and especially the youth are not uninterested in politics. Everytime he entered a bar or a café, he heard political conversations. It is rather, the parties themselves who are to blame. They have failed to address the demands of the public and who have therefore decided to keep away.

A few orderly boards have been put up to display posters of the various parties and candidates. There have been a few meetings but not in open spaces (obviously given the population, a hall should suffice), no loudspeakers blaring, no huge cut outs of leaders, no traffic jamming processions and above all, no Rath Yatras!

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