The French just don't trust politicians: analysts

24th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 23, 2006 (AFP) - The wave of opposition in France to the new youth jobs contract is taking place against the backdrop of a political crisis characterised by a widening rift between government and governed, analysts said Thursday.

PARIS, March 23, 2006 (AFP) - The wave of opposition in France to the new youth jobs contract is taking place against the backdrop of a political crisis characterised by a widening rift between government and governed, analysts said Thursday.

In recent years the divorce between the people and their ruling elite has led to two political cataclysms: the 2002 round one presidential election victory for National Front (FM) leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, and last year's defeat at a referendum of the EU's proposed constitution.

A lack of faith in the governing class encourages the French public to bypass intermediaries and move straight to the street to express their unhappiness, according to historian Alain Bergougnioux.

"In France there has always been a certain suspicion towards political parties and a tradition of individualism. There's never been a real mass membership party except for the Communists in the 1950s and '60s," he said.

But in recent years party membership has fallen to new lows. The Socialist Party (PS) for example had 120,000 members last year, compared to 500,000 for the two main German parties and 400,000 for the British Labour Party.

The weakness of the political parties is linked to the appearance of new divisive issues such as Europe and globalisation, on which neither the PS nor the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) of President Jacques Chirac have designated clear polices, according to political scientist Jean-Luc Parodi.

These divisions within the blocs of left and right have created a "splintering of allegiances" — a dispersal of political forces such as was clearly seen in the fist round of the 2002 presidential election when the Socialist Lionel Jospin was beaten into third place.

In that election some 50 percent of registered voters failed to vote for mainstream parties of left or right, instead moving to the extremes or abstaining.

In the EU constitution referendum of May last year, only 45 percent of votes went for the 'yes' camp even though it was backed by the UMP, the Socialists, centrists and Greens.

"It is our political representation that is in crisis not democracy," said Stéphane Rozes of the CSA polling institute. "People want politics."

"At a time when the state is on the retreat thanks to the changing global economy, French people are finding it very hard to give up their attachment to the state," Rozes said.

According to Bergougnioux, voters would prefer their parties and institutions to be more representative of society as a whole in terms of sex, age, and social and cultural diversity.

"People want their rulers to look like them," he said.

Much remains to be done. Even though the law encourages male-female equality in voting lists, there are only 70 women out of 754 deputies in the National Assembly.

Last November's riots in the high-immigration city suburbs also revealed the lack of representation in the political system for people of African and Arab racial backgrounds.

"In what is now a multi-cultural society, increasing the diversity of our political representation is an intellectual, moral and electoral imperative. But the process is taking time," said Bergougnioux.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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