28 April 2007

Flash: Even in the F.W.I, All Politics Are Local

Herewith a hot news report on French national politics en St. Barth.

While this island is in the midst of a change in the form of its of local government because of newly granted home-rule rights, most people expect little real change, i.e., the island will still be part of France, the same people will be running things locally, and aside from some new tourist and port taxes, not much will be different. The local election is in June. Ho, hum.

But to my surprise, the French national election has been a matter of significant attention here.

That contest, for those who do not follow it closely, is in two rounds. First round was Sunday, 22 April. (They voted Saturday here.) There were 12 candidates for President, with only four being talked about seriously. The top two vote-getters are in a run-off on 6 May. As expected, the winners of the first round were right-of-center Nicolas Sarkozy, and to his left, the Socialist Party candidate (first woman ever to be in the running for President), Segolene Royal.

Surprise, surprise, no candidate visited these hustings. Perhaps, just perhaps, the numbers played a role in that. Of the 81 million votes cast in France, this island contributed exactly three thousand nineteen. The turnout set a record here and in all of France as well. (63% of registered voters here, 83% in all of France.) (Next time you want to pee on France, think about whether George and Dick and Karl would be running the sandbox today if we had that kind of national voter turnout.)

No one here resents being ignored by the candidates. Barthians do not worry about being chopped liver. It is close enough to pate that nobody cares.

The really significant numbers are in the individual totals. In all of France, Conservative Sarkozy beat Socialist Royal 31-26%. In St. Barths, Sarkozy beat Royal 59% to 13%. That is some disparity. And Royal's 13% is the highest percentage ever won by a Socialist candidate on this island. (My own view? She is an attractive woman who is not married to the father of her four children. En France, that's mainstream.)

Notably, St. Barth's "sister" islands in the French outremer were far more enthusiastic about the Socialist candidate: while Sarkozy won in both places, the margin in Guadeloupe was 42-38, and in St. Martin, 42-32.

Those islands are quite poor. People here scoff at Guadeloupe, the administrative "capitol" of the French West Indies: One hears comments like, "They are always on strike there." Barthians, though very French, are much more like Americans when it comes to l'affairs economique. People here are inclined to be leery of government. The island economy is in good shape and the locals want to be able to manage their businesses and their homes without official interference. A Socialist stands little chance here. There is no unionized labor, no serious political unrest, no downtrodden minorities. At worst, too much rain in March, but its difficult to blame Sarkozy for that.


While I am in my political reporting mood, a small personal anecdote tells much about the mood in France, which parallels some current political discussions in the U.S.

In previous accounts, I have talked about our several visits to the sousprefecture and our dealing with the French bureaucracy in connection with getting visas to stay on the island for more than three months at a time. The process is excruciatingly slow and a PITA, but we do it anyway. Hard to give up an hour at the beach, but it's great blog material.

Last week we were informed that our "long stay" (one year) visas had been issued, and the documents had made their way from France to St. Martin and thence to the St. Barths sousprefecture. We were invited to come in and pick them up. We did. But we had both of them in our possession for only a moment. In classic French bureaucratic function, Pinks was given a card that, on its face, had expired two months ago. So after looking at it, she had to return it! Not to worry, the sousprefecture issued a her a temporary card. That one expires before we return in November. Hey, you can't make this stuff up.

When we return, we will both need to apply for renewals--a real nuisance involving letters from insurance companies, banks, etc. I asked the lovely lady behind the counter, who is the manager of the sousprefecture, if we had to do this every year indefinitely. No, she said, after five one-year visas, one may apply for a ten-year resident card. But, she said, there was a new French "integre" law requiring all applicants for ten-year resident status to show proficiency in written and oral French. Doubtless the French National Assembly was not thinking about Marty and Pinks London and their ilk when they passed that law, non? This is particularly relevant to the hottest political issue in the French national election, the recent visit by Sarkozy to one of the unintegrated Muslim suburbs surrounding Paris, where he called the residents "scum." That is the reported English translation for the French word he used, but I suspect it is worse than that.

Okay, enough serious talk. Our days in paradise are few, the sun shines, and it's time to get back to my regular job.

A bientot.

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