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"Foamed" is against

The right-hander, Nicolas Sarkozy, provokes the suburban people before the second round of the French presidential election.


[France] – Who should I vote for? You mean, like, saltines and their ilk, eh?

More does not need Siaka, 24 years old, to say. In the weary drab town of Clichy-sous-Bois northeast of Paris, the starting point for the riots that literally set French suburbs on fire in the fall of 2005, little is left of Nicolas Sarkozy, the right candidate who is hardly the favorite to become France's next president. In the second and decisive election round on Sunday, May 6, he meets the socialist Ségolène Royal. In the first round of April 22, "Sarko" gained 31 percent nationwide and "Ségo" 26. In Clichy, the opposite was true: 42 percent for the socialist, and 25 for the UMP candidate.

There has never been a love story between poor suburban youth, often with immigrant backgrounds, and Sarkozy. He was Minister of the Interior from 2002 to 2007, a position the French often refer to as "France's first pitch". For security reasons he has stayed away from the suburbs of the election campaign.

In March of this year, several hundred youths again barked with police at a train station in Paris after a ticket check. Many accuse Sarkozy of worsening the relationship between the authorities and these youths. As Minister of the Interior, he imposed higher penalties. On the demolished buildings in Clichy, tags like "Fuck la police" regularly appear.

- Before, it was possible to talk to the local police. But after Sarkozy put it down, we have only seen riot police. In Sarkozy's eyes, we are France's shame, says Abdel, 20 years old and unemployed.

In the summer of 2005, Sarkozy promised to clean a Paris suburb with high-pressure washers and get rid of a "scum" in another. When the riots started after the two Clichy youths Zyed and Bouna died in a high voltage transformer where they had been hiding, Sarkozy bluntly denied that they were hiding because the police had pursued them. This was later disproved in a public investigation report.

The riots illustrated the shortcomings of French integration policy. In Clichy-sous-Bois, 28.000 people live, the vast majority of French people with immigrant backgrounds, especially from Africa and the Arab countries. Unemployment is just under 25 per cent, almost three times as high as the national average, and 40 per cent for those under 25, representing almost half the population.

Mohamed Salah, a 49-year-old teacher, follows Ny Tid between the blocks, almost all of which should have been demolished several years ago. Young people are hanging on the corner and on the stairs, there are no cafes, no cinema, and the only gymnasium burned down during the riots.

- I go to Paris every other day. Otherwise, I do not feel that I am in the homeland of culture, says the teacher, who came to France 20 years ago from Algeria.

High participation

There is a deep desire for change in Clichy. After the riots the association became AC! Le Feu started to encourage everyone to register on the election lists. In Clichy alone, turnout increased by 35 percent and was as much as 82 percent, slightly below the national average. This was a big improvement from the 2002 election, when only 62 per cent voted. Still, spokesman Samir Mihi is bitter.

- We must admit that France is a racist country, he says considering some of Sarkozy's proposals.

He doesn't have excessive faith in Royal, either. That, despite promising to prioritize the fight against discrimination and racism, suggested subsidizing 500.000 jobs for unqualified youth, saying she would reinstate local police in the suburbs.

Suburban votes are not enough to win the election. But Royal can hope that Sarkozy's polarizing figure will prompt a nationwide "Everything Except Sarko" movement. Sarkozy's harsh rhetoric on crime and immigration and flirting with right-wing voters startle.

Although foreign policy has barely emerged in the election campaign, many are skeptical of his US- and Israel-friendly line. And there is reason to emphasize that President Jacques Chirac, whom few will miss – for the time being – was never as popular as when he opposed George W. Bush and the Iraq war.

Meet in midfield

The week after the first round, most of it was about François Bayrou, the center candidate who made a bracket election with 18,5 percent and third place.

His close to seven million voters are the subject of interest from both finalists in the election, but Ségolène Royal needs them most. The left side, including the outer left, is now at a historically low 36 percent.

Early on, Royal debated a public debate with Bayrou to find consensus points, a very unusual initiative. The two did not reach a cooperation agreement, but the symbolism is heavy. Bayrou, who has traditionally been leaning to the right, has not encouraged voting on Royal, but indirectly said he will not vote for Nicolas Sarkozy himself.

- We are witnessing the birth of French social democracy. Where the Socialists have refused to follow the reforms of their more market-friendly sister parties in Europe, Royal is carpentrying them together in a gap between the two electoral grounds, concludes political scientist Dominique Reynié.

- And after this there is no going back. Either Royal becomes president and bearer of the Social Democrats after the death of the Communist Party [they received only 1,93 percent, editor's note]. Or she loses. Then Bayrou can intercept breakaways in his new party before the parliamentary elections in June.

Sarkozy is still barely a favorite with around 52 percent support, and most of Bayro's party has joined Sarkozy. But he was clearly annoyed at the attention he is losing on the Royals flirt with Bayrou, and grumbled last weekend that a "World Cup final is not played between number 2 and number 3".

But it's not always the favorite to win the championship, either. Reply Sunday night.

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