The official campaign for the French presidential elections began on Monday. The first round of voting takes place on 22 April.
Coverage of the elections has been dominated by the two leading candidates – right wing UMP candidate Nicholas Sarkozy and Socialist Party contester Ségolène Royal.
Sarkozy made a name for himself during the 2005 riots in French suburbs when, as interior minister, he launched a disgusting attack on the rioters, calling them “scum”.
He was also responsible for sending riot police into the Sorbonne and other universities to break up last year’s student occupations against the CPE employment law.
Sarkozy has continued this right wing agenda through the election campaign.
Last week he denounced “uncontrolled immigration” into France and argued that young people who commit suicide and paedophiles are genetically programmed to such behaviour.
Tellingly, the Financial Times reported this week that Gordon Brown had “clicked” with Sarkozy when they met in London earlier this year.
Ségolène Royal has pitched her campaign as a break with the old forms of elections – presenting herself as a new type of modern candidate appealing directly to the people.
In reality, Royal is committed to neoliberal policies. Last year she expressed her support for Tony Blair. She has zigzagged throughout the campaign, being forced to talk left at times and at others following Sarkozy’s agenda.
The real backdrop to the elections are the struggles that have shaken the political terrain in France over the last few years.
In May 2005, a referendum saw a majority vote against the EU constitution. The “no” committees united opposition to neoliberalism. Many members and supporters of the Socialist Party voted no, in opposition to their own party leadership.
In autumn 2005 riots in the suburbs of Paris spread to many other cities. Hundreds of young people were involved, angry at years of poverty, police repression, racism and unemployment.
In March 2006 protests and strikes defeated the government’s proposed CPE employment law that would have reduced rights for young workers.
These struggles, along with fears that fascist candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen could repeat his performance of 2002 and reach the second round of the election, have led significant numbers to register to vote for the first time.
Outside the bankruptcy of Sarkozy and Royal there is a different campaign taking place.
The presidential campaign by Olivier Besancenot, the candidate for the LCR (Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire) is expressing the spirit of the resistance of the past few years.
Under the slogan “our lives are worth more than their profits”, Besancenot is drawing in new forces from across France.
Besancenot is a postal worker. He was the youngest ever French presidential candidate when he stood, aged 28, in the 2002 elections winning 1.3 million votes – 4.25 percent.
He is currently touring France speaking at large, young and enthusiastic public rallies, as well as meeting groups of workers in dispute and other campaigners.
Recent campaign meetings include 1,500 in Bordeaux, 500 in Valence – where the meeting was also addressed by workers from the Reynolds pen factory who are fighting redundancy – and 800 in Clermont-Ferrand in central France.
Besancenot also spoke in Corsica for the first time last week, addressing a meeting of 100 in the town of Calvi and 450 in Ajaccio.
It is clear that Besancenot’s campaign is capturing the mood of opposition to neoliberalism and the anger at racism and insecurity felt by many.
In the polls he has been at least two percentage points clear of other left candidates such as Marie-George Buffet of the Communist Party, Lutte Ouvriere’s candidate Arlette Laguiller and anti-globalisation activist José Bové, who is standing as an independent left candidate.
His lead over the Communist Party is significant as it was once the strongest party in France and has long dominated the left.
For more information and daily updates on Olivier Besancenot’s campaign, go to www.besancenot2007.org in French