Thursday, May 3, 2007

The presidential election debates: French edition

Did you see the presidential debate the other day? You probably did if you're French.

Less than 2 weeks after an 84.6% turnout in the first round of voting, Europe's interest in their political process is unrestrained.

In an article written with the enthusiasm of a sportscaster at the Olympic games, the German magazine Der Spiegel, gave a blow by blow description of the two finalists squaring off before this Sunday's vote.
A blockbuster TV duel

Things are getting exciting in this TV spectacle with a "number of viewers comparable to the World Cup final," as the daily Parisien Liberé describes it. Not even the Champions League game on at the same time -- AC Milan's drubbing of Manchester United -- can tempt viewers to switch channels. The sports event lags well behind the political Armageddon in primetime popularity.

The fifth TV duel in the history of the Fifth Republic is a match for the great confrontations of the past, both in terms of rhetoric and issues. Like the great intellectual clashes between conservative Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Socialist Francois Mitterrand -- currently being re-enacted on the stage of a Paris theater. In one famous 1974 debate, Giscard jabbed Mitterrand by saying: "You do not have a monopoly on the heart, M. Mitterrand. I am equally concerned about the social problems of France." Mitterrand's 1981 riposte remains equally unforgotten. Having been accused by Giscard's of being politically "passé," Mitterrand retorted by blasting Giscard as being politically "passive."
Nobody's accused the American debates of blockbuster ratings and an 84% turnout would beat our record by about 20 points.

The European edition has surprisingly few references to either candidates' hair, or speaking gaffes, or favorite book, though. How do the voters know who to choose?

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