Right behind for first time in former colony

2nd May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PONDICHERY, India, May 2, 2007 (AFP) - The small southern Indian seaside town of Pondichery, a former French colony with 7,000 eligible voters, used to be a bastion of France's right.

PONDICHERY, India, May 2, 2007 (AFP) - The small southern Indian seaside town of Pondichery, a former French colony with 7,000 eligible voters, used to be a bastion of France's right.

But for the first time a socialist candidate has come out ahead in the town's choice for a new French president, another sign that right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is hard to digest for non-white French.

In the first round of voting on April 22, the socialist Segolene Royal emerged with just over 36 percent of the vote against 34 percent for Sarkozy -- even though he is seen as the rightful heir to French "Gaullism," to which many in Pondichery attach themselves.

The territory, nestled in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and French soil until just 53 years ago, was among the first to rally to Charles de Gaulle's 1940 call for resistance against Germany.

The town is also still packed with reminders of its heritage -- police in kepi hats, French street names and a statue of Joan of Arc, a symbol used by the right wing.

But "it's anyone except Sarkozy," explained Claude Marius, editor of the local French language Trait-d'Union newspaper. Even thousands of kilometres (miles) away in India, he said, "Sarkozy scares people."

The problem is Sarkozy's tougher stance on issues such as immigration, appealing to some in France but not in former colonies such as Pondichery.

A new immigration law pushed through last year by Sarkozy as interior minister, aimed at steering the country towards a policy of a more selective intake, did not go down well in the territory.

"In India most of the marriages are arranged," said Marius, explaining that ethnic Tamils from Pondichery residing in France like to "return home to take an Indian wife."

But he said the French consulate in Pondichery now views such unions as marriages of convenience, refusing to issue the necessary paperwork for newlyweds to live together in France.

"People are saying 'don't vote for Sarkozy, because he'll stop your children from getting married and your families won't get any visas anymore,'" he said.

The local Socialist Party official, Manuel Velangany, said he has been campaigning on this issue by "warning voters who are planning future marriages."

Socialists have also been campaigning on other local issues such as increased benefits for veterans.

The French of Pondichery have also been delving into issues of national identity.

While some voters in the coastal town said they saw Sarkozy as the only one capable of upholding France's position in the world, others are not so convinced.

"With Sarkozy, we're scared of being considered as Tamil foreigners even though we are a part of a multicultural France," said Marie-Joelle Primoguet, a teacher.

Still, the view of France as a country in decline does ring a bell in southern India.

"We are far away from France, but people sense the disarray, the decline of France," said Albert Rollin, a newspaper boss.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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