Monday, January 07, 2008

Local politics - the same the world over?

We went up to the village hall yesterday at lunch time for the village New Years celebration put on by the Marie. About half the village attended. (our whole commune has 450 adults plus children) We had mulled wine, orange juice, crisps, olives and galette. (The village can't afford the 'galette des Roi' that's traditional in homes.) A good time was had by all.

It was nice to be greeted warmly by so many of our neighbors. Beaucoup de bise were exchanged. These are kisses on the cheek; more friendly that a simple handshake and a sign of acceptance. Everyone wishing everyone a happy new year. Nice party.

I couldn't, however, not notice that the real politics are starting. We have our local elections coming up for the Mayor and the town council. (All 14 of them. Seems a lot, but then again why not.)

The current Mayor was working the room like a pro. He even tried out his English on us! He's running for election to be Mayor for the first time in his own right. He became Mayor this time when his predecessor retired; he was the Deputy Mayor so automatically stepped up.

Running against him is the owner of the local pharmacy. He's younger, but an outsider having only been living in the village for a couple of years.

So to start with we have the incumbent who has been living in the village for many years running against the new comer from outside. (The villagers say; "he's a Parisian." Now I don't know if he really comes from Paris, but they call most French outsiders Parisians just as they call all foreigners "les Anglais" whether or not they come from the UK.) The old guard versus the new. Add to that the fact that the Mayor is a staunch Socialist and the challenger a fan of Sarkozy and you have nice left right split. This is a pretty conservative area so being of the right is not necessarily a bad thing.

The challengers accuse the Mayor of being stogy and do nothing. They want the village to be more dynamic. Issues are things like why hasn't the Mayor sorted out the cafe situation? (The local cafe is closed because the license holder (unfortunately a drunk) is banned from opening due to poor hygiene in the cafe. The owner would like to reopen, but can't get the license off the holder.) Why can't the local shop be combined with the Post Office to the benefit of both? The Mayor is also accused of being uncommunicative preferring to do things then inform people. And so it goes. Why was a house out of character allowed to be built in the village?

The incumbents say that the 'newcomers' just want to stir up trouble; that all they have are pipe dreams and what do they know about the 'real' village anyway. "We have a nice village let's keep it that way. Don't rock the boat."

Now in these elections there can be an open slate or a closed one. In the open slate its each person who's standing is voted for individually. One votes for up to 15 people (including the Mayor's position.) In a closed slate one votes for a selection of candidates as a block. That is if its a full slate one can only give it all 15 votes. The Mayor has opted for a closed slate. (remember he's a Socialist and party oriented), but he only has 9 people on his slate. The challengers are still gathering potential names, but... They already have two 'foreigners' signed up. Both British! Will the true locals accept them? The rest of the open slate so far tends to be the younger people of the village.

This is getting interesting. I'll keep you posted as the campaigns progress.

I expect that anyone reading this who lives or has ever lived in a small town will find all of this familiar. Politics are politics methinks.

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