Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

 You are in:  Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Friday, 10 May, 2002, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Can Jacques Chirac reunite France?
President Jacques Chirac has pledged that he will take swift and decisive action to meet the concerns of the French nation.

One of his first tasks has been to select Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a little-known moderate senator as his prime minister.

Mr Raffarin is due to announce his interim cabinet which will lead the centre-right into next month's parliamentary elections.

The new ministers - who will not have the backing of a parliamentary majority - face the task of rallying right-wing voters and wooing the fragmented left.

What lessons can be learned from France's presidential election? Will they have any influence on next month's parliamentary elections? Can the country be reunited under Jacques Chirac?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

It seems to me that the French electorate voted for Chirac merely to deny Le Pen his rightful place as French President

Phil McCrackin, UK
It seems to me that the French electorate voted for Chirac merely to deny Le Pen his rightful place as French President, rather then for any merits he possesses. However, the inexorable rise of Le Pen can, and will resist the self-righteous lefties who voted for Chirac, and are surely just delaying the inevitable.
Phil McCrackin, UK

When politicians do not listen to the people who through taxes pay for everything then there is going to be trouble!!
Adrian W, UK

There, unfortunately, will be a sweep of racism and fascism all across Europe. Europe has let in a lot of immigrants, which will result in a back lash. Chirac needs to ensure the abolition of the Nationalist party and Le Pen!
Riho Maimets, Estonia

Can Chirac reunite France? Only long enough to defeat Le Pen. Then it's back to political warfare as usual.
Mark, USA

There unfortunately will be a sweep of racism and fascism all across Europe. Europe has let in a lot of immigrants, which will result in a backlash. Chirac needs to ensure the abolition of the Nationalist party and Le Pen!!
Riho Maimets, Estonia

Stop the nonsense about danger of the "extreme right". Historically most violence and repressions were caused by the extreme left, from French Revolution, through Nazism to Soviet and Chinese communism. Yes, Hitler was not a "right wing extremist" but a national socialist. Assassination of Pim Fortuyn by an extreme left activist is only most recent case in point.
Mirek Kondracki, USA

Chirac is a deadbeat politician who makes little or no contribution to the real future of France

Alan, Poland
Chirac is a deadbeat politician who makes little or no contribution to the real future of France. Now they are stuck with him yet again. The French political system is at fault and the result speaks for itself. Le Pen is just a diversion and a way of telling the haughty French establishment that they should for once in their lives get off their backsides!
Alan, Poland

Can anyone spot the similarity with Chirac's opinions and the 'Jewish impurity?' His ideas of the concerns of the French nation don't seem to be that of the United Nations. Imagine how dangerous any 'pure' country could be with ideas against exterior nations attempting to 'pollute' it. It does not need to be imagined; look into the past. These past ideas have achieved much great for a nation but nothing for freedom and rights. At the unnecessary expense of much human life.
Lawrence, UK

I would have to disagree with Graham from The Netherlands, when he claims that Chirac was the symbol of unity for the French when voting against Le Pen. Though Le Pen was the clear symbol of fear and clearly posed the threat, it was not Chirac that roused the country to unity, it was the common feeling of the French who, united under the metaphoric banner of democracy, instigated the imminent downfall of Le Pen.
Nat LeLipa, London, England

Let us not confuse France and the USA. In America, most people, voters or not, democrats or republicans will follow their president and support him, whatever his party. This is not the case in France. Chirac's goal is not to unite France but to win the upcoming General Elections and "reign" over a conservative government for the next 5 years. He also wants to have more control over the Conservatives by creating a single party, thus replacing the current 3. He got 82% of the vote, the same as Jospin would have received should Chirac have lost in the first round.
Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)

It is an open secret that Chirac's victory is purely a product of 'protest vote' against the extremist Le Pen

Omphile Rhee Hetanang, Botswana
It is an open secret that Chirac's victory is purely a product of 'protest vote' against the extremist Le Pen. It therefore can't be readily taken to be a vote of confidence on Mr. Chirac. I think that Mr. Chirac has to take this as a big challenge to him and work much more than ever to achieve the reunifying role than remains of him in France.
Omphile Rhee Hetanang, Botswana

Of course Chirac won't be able to unite the country. How could he, when the electorate is so polarized that significant percentages of voters cast ballots for a neo-fascist AND a Trotskyite calling for the dictatorship of the proletariat! The only way Chirac will unite a large bloc of the electorate is with disgust at his corrupt politics and business as usual in government.
Chris L., USA

France is very much united, even if it does not look so to foreigners. Julius Caesar already observed the Gaulois were always quarrelling, and we still do. But we survived quite a long time since Caesar... and we are united in the idea we are so much better than the others... and maybe we are....
Mirabelle Madre, France

Chirac is capable of uniting France against a common threat or fear, for example, Jean-Marie Le Penn, but once that threat is gone he will lose his support very quickly.
Graham, The Netherlands

Chirac is capable of uniting France against a common threat or fear, for example, Jean-Marie Le Penn, but once that threat is gone he will lose his support very quickly.
Graham, The Netherlands

As much as decent people hate the Nationalist party and what it stands for, they will not just jump in and give an alternative party their vote unless it represents what they believe in. What has happened in France and in the UK is just the tip of the iceberg. If politicians don't take heed now and act, the Nationalist Party will be back.

I can't see Chirac's method of government changing, so the chances of him "uniting" the French are pretty slim. I would expect that the nationalists will therefore increase their following of five million to double that by the time the next French elections are due. This is very likely going to be the catalyst which will destabilise the EU and hopefully lead to its demise!
Susan, USA/UK

Chirac has overestimated his own popularity

Nat LeLipa, London, England
I think that Chirac has overestimated his own popularity, and sees the landslide result he achieved as a victory for himself, rather than an organised defeat of Le Pen. He should realise that all those who voted for him were not doing so out of choice, but for the interests of democracy in Europe, and the maintenance of the EU, which surely would have collapsed following the retraction of a right-wing France.
Nat LeLipa, London, England

The overwhelming support extended to Chirac conveys most clearly that the whole nation has already united to defeat the fascist forces. Those who have respected the merits of freedom, human values and democratic rights all along cannot think of living in the shadows of a fundamentally flawed far-right ideology. France is considered as one of the most respected democracies of the world and any shift towards far-right views would have only lowered its standing in the international arena. I congratulate the people of France for extending whole-hearted support to President Chirac who will surely lead the nation to still greater heights.
Mahesh Chandra Somani, Finland

5.5 million people voting for a far right extremist party is not a minority group of people

Mark A Dowe, Scotland, UK
One of the lessons that needs to be taken heed of is the fact that 5.5 million people voting for a far right extremist party - which is not a minority group of people. Jacques Chirac needs now to approach the position of France with conciliation. An indicator has moved across the bows of the French nation and Mr Chirac now needs to use the opportunity with a greater deal of tact and diplomacy addressing a wider audience in relation to socialist issues. A new way is now required and I am confident over the medium to longer term Jacques Chirac and his new premier will be able to deliver a more evenly balanced approach. Party politicians will be aware of this to steady the ever increasing support of far-right politics. Whether the current election has any influence on next month's parliamentary elections is probably debatable given the fact that any new policy implementation always takes time to filter through in economic terms.
Mark A Dowe, Scotland, UK

The result of the French election hasn't been a surprise. Le Pen has been steadily rising over the last 20 years. There is nothing sudden about it. Chirac may have been re-elected but if you look at the votes, Le Pen actually gained 700,000 votes between both rounds. Some of the voters may have chosen to vote for him to oppose the establishment but also because they believe in Le Pen and his theories. The French have never historically been one unique race of people, but a mosaic of various ethnic groups. You just need to drive into Marseilles for instance with a car registered in Paris to see that there is great dislike between French themselves. So how can they be expected to accept people from further afield?
Anthony, London/Paris

I very much doubt that Chirac can do a good job of reuniting France, but I am absolutely sure that he will do an infinitely better job than Le Pen would have done. To all those who think extreme nationalist policies are OK, and that the history of Nazi Germany could not be repeated, just look at what has happened in the former Yugoslavia in the last decade.
Adam, UK

Not a chance. A few sound bites here and a few sound bites there then it will be business as normal i.e. no change and the electorate can go to hell for another seven years.
John, France

The lesson here is that voter apathy can be very dangerous. It is heartening that the true spirit of the people of France prevailed in the end. Let us hope that they and all decent people throughout the world reflect on this.
Philip S. Ahll, UK

Why can't we have politicians who really represent the voting populace?

Ian Caig, Argentina
In many respects the results of the first round of the ballot in France reflect the disenchantment with the entire established political class - this is reflected in other parts of the world. In Argentina a sandwich won a vote (probably do as good a job as those in charge now) and in Hartlepool UK, a guy dressed as a monkey was voted mayor. As others have commented, the result of the second round in France was a vote for the least worst option. Why can't we have politicians who really represent the voting populace instead of the vested interests of discredited parties?
Ian Caig, Argentina

To Ian Caig: Be honest, now - you voted for the sandwich, didn't you? What kind of sandwich was it?
Jennifer Ethington, USA

We can clearly see the role the media plays in politics. The whole French press went after Le Pen to destroy him and implement their ideas of a multicultural society and a neo-communist philosophy.
Jean Paul St. John, Newfoundland, Canada

I think that Le Pen did nothing more than take advantage of an incredibly confused situation. We had too many candidates at the first round so what happened is purely logical. But we've learnt a lesson and we left-wing voters are now waiting for the Socialists to give us a real, strong leader.
Katell, France

Their mainstream politicians seem to have distanced themselves from the ordinary citizen

Richard, Belgium
Like many others I find Jean-Marie Le Pen's views on immigrants threatening and distasteful, but I am convinced that he continues to pick up one vote in five because he articulates, however brutally, the fears of many decent French people who believe that their country is losing its soul. They feel threatened by rising crime, which they tend to associate particularly with recent immigrants. Their mainstream politicians seem to have distanced themselves from the ordinary citizen. Their economy seems to be operated along "euro-corporatist" lines which run counter to many of their traditions and their culture is under attack from the Anglo-American bogeyman. What can you expect?
Richard, Belgium

I'm actually quite shocked about some of the views that have been expressed on this comments site. The benefits of multiculturalism seem clear to me, especially when information technology is making the world smaller every day. Surely the problems exhibited in areas with high concentrations of ethnic minorities are not as much a clash of cultures as an indication of poor government policies in these areas, high unemployment, poor housing, lack of education. Why is the focus not on tackling these independent of the racial composition of the area?
Louise Gooderham, UK

The dramatic growth of multiculturalism in Europe is a great risk for the European identity. No comparison should be made with the USA melting pot. Many Europeans are worried about this issue rather than immigrant delinquency.
F. Labadie, Spain

The internal security of France will depend on the social and economic integration of its marginalized citizens

Anton Norbert, Canada
Chirac and the French populace have a monumental task ahead of them. They have to make meaningful efforts to accommodate their non-white fellow citizens. The lack of this has led to violence in the banlieu. The internal security of France will depend on the social and economic integration of the marginalized citizens of France. Yes, France has to accept this reality. Inaction will lead France going the Vichy way.
Anton Norbert, Canada

The people of France are not racist. They want to protest against having multiculturalism thrust upon them and voting for an extreme right candidate was the only way they could do so. Multiculturalism does not work and the French people had no other way of protesting. The extreme right will not go away while governments refuse to listen to the man in the street.
Louise, UK

Now I understand it. In France and the EU the right to vote only means you can vote for the politically correct candidates. Perhaps the EU will now have poll watchers who will rip up votes for the wrong candidates. What ever became of Liberte?
Frederick Jorden, Virginia, USA

I'm deeply ashamed of some of the commentary coming out of the US about Le Pen. Folks he's a fascist! His election would have led to mass deportations, confiscation of property and the disintegration of the European economy. I cannot understand why some Americans fail to read between the lines of Le Pen's manifesto or see the logical consequences of implementing his policies.
Dan, USA

Democracy also means you don't have to vote at all! Let the politicians know that you don't want to vote between two evils.
Danny van Noort, USA

The growing fear of crime cited as a reason for Europe's increasing right-wing extremism seems out of tune with the actual crime rate, which has been falling throughout the Western world since the mid-1990s. Perhaps the sensationalism of the media and the populist "zero tolerance"-type responses from centre-wing politicians have been responsible for exaggerating the "problems" of crime and immigration in the minds of the electorate, with the alarming result that a jumped-up agitator can veil his bigotry in a shroud of mock respectability. In the wake of BNP election victories in Burnley, Britain's own centre-right media must readdress its approach to the reporting of crime.
Jonathan, UK

Once Le Pen has disappeared a fresh face will emerge to lead the extreme right

Ben, France
The key reason for the recent boost to the fortunes of the National Front is the underlying impotence of 'coalition' government in France to address key grievances, like crime and unemployment. The stage is set for a repeat of the last five years with a right and left coalition. France is likely to continue to slip off the pace of economic and social development. Once Le Pen has disappeared a fresh face will emerge with a less tainted past to lead the extreme right. That's what Chirac needs to be worried about.
Ben, France

Interesting to read the pro Le Pen comments from other countries especially the USA, a country that owes its very existence to immigrant cultures. How quickly we do forget.
Jonathan Granville, UK

I don't think that all those people who voted for Le Pen are actively racist, but there is widespread frustration over a wide range of public order issues, and Le Pen was the candidate who offered an alternative. I disapprove of that alternative, but, as long as mainstream French politicians are perceived as only being interested in the rights of civil servants and racial minorities, the protest vote will remain a dangerous wildcard. This time we got away with it.
Mark Howe, France

I think Le Pen has a point but the way he wants to rectify the problems created by immigrants is wrong. A typical extremist, he and his followers see the world in black and white. He is taking out his angst towards all immigrants. This situation has been created by bad policies on immigration by the French government.
Arun, India

French democracy is in crisis

Chris, Sweden
What this election shows, particularly the second round, is that French democracy is in crisis. Where a large number of the electorate are effectively forced to vote for a candidate they don't want - Chirac - to prevent the victory of another candidate they don't want - Le Pen. When one has to choose between the lesser of two evils, it hardly sounds like democracy. When will elections ever become a choice between two positives?
Chris, Sweden

Jacques Chirac has to ensure that he abstains from being merely a figurehead and acts for the benefit of the French people, not forgetting the role of France in global economics.
Harun A Mushi, Tanzania

That anyone could see Jacque Chirac's victory as a triumph for French democratic institutions is really quite incredible. The three leading candidates in the first round received only roughly 20 per cent of the votes. Both the right and the left have a longstanding history of corruption. Chirac, Jospin, and Le Pen all came to maturity in a distant historical period. Can't France create new leaders? New ideas? Clinton, Bush, Blair, and Schroeder are not great leaders but at least they represent a new political era. What went wrong in France?
Richard, Germany

While Le Pen lost the election, the fact that he managed to garner 18% of the popular vote should send a message to the Eurocrat elitists bent on the destruction of Western civilisation. Unchecked immigration, not to mention the loss of national identity, are not sitting well with many. The elitists tell us to embrace multiculturalism and diversity. Rubbish! If one wishes to inspect the fruit of such liberal nonsense, study Yugoslavia.
Jack McMillan, USA

It's a relief. Le Pen is under 20%. This result shows that the decision Jacques Chirac and all French parties have followed for years not to make any alliances with extreme right parties, was the good one. It is true, the extreme right is still present in our country and they are dangerous. We have to continue to struggle against them.

I belive France suffered a setback in not electing Le Pen

Lynn Hanson, USA
I belive France suffered a set back in not electing Le Pen. Last year I visited Paris. Never in my life have I feared for the safety of my family until we visited Paris. In the past we visited the major cities of Asia, North America, and Africa. The ghettos of America's largest cities are safer and cleaner than Paris. I vowed never to vist that European sewer again. I hope Le Pen would win the election and clean up the city and country. We will wait and see what occurs next.
Lynn Hanson, USA

I hope other countries, that have the same problems with extreme right parties, have the same behaviour union against them. Its probably the best way to stop them.
Michele Garcia, France

18.5% means nearly one-fifth of the French electorate voted for a candidate who espouses exreme right wing views - nothing to be proud or complacent about
David Gordon, England

Chirac needs to take the concerns of his country far more seriously. Not all nations are designed to absorb large numbers of immigrants without careful planning and public consent. Open debate is essential to avoid extremism.
Michael, Canada

One in five voters in France support the views of Le Pen. Another few years of escalating crime will surely increase that percentage. The 20 years of softly softly won't gel. Take note Blair, in your run up to become president of the world.
John Power, Germany

The real news isn't Chirac's victory, but that 18% still chose Le Pen. As someone has already pointed out, that means more people voted for Le Pen this time than last. That just shows the negative, anti-Le Pen voter tactics of the establishment and of the leftist protestors either did nothing to impact the election or actually drove more people to vote for Le Pen. Using hate and fear against hate and fear serves no one.
Shelly, California, USA

If you ignore a person's timid pleas to stop, then eventually they will scream at the top of their lungs to grab your attention. This is what happened here. The people of France don't like multiculturalism, they want their immigrants to be French like they are, they don't like the increasing power of the EU over France.

They are not racist, they just love France - to my knowledge that is not a crime. Le Pen is their scream for the leaders of France to stop their destruction of the country. If Chirac ignores their screams then next election they will scream even louder.
Tony Merlo, Australia

Le Pen has highlighted a hidden problem in France that has been festering underground for many years. The French are sick and tired of their country and culture being overrun by illegal immigrants and refugees. Britain is heading down the same road with its softly-softly approach allowing refugees into the country.
David LJ, Isle of Man

With the anti Le Pen campaign, France has proved that democracy can become a sham. If voters want Le Pen as President then so be it. An election should not turn into a circus as it has done over the last two weeks where disinformation by the leading media has made sure that only politically correct votes are acceptable.
Stephen Rookes, Grenoble, France

Don't take the electorate for granted, address the concerns of the voters and stop treating them as ignorant people who do not know what is good for them. If you study Le Pen's manifesto, he is a "pussycat" compared to others waiting in the wings.
John, France

Le Pen's loss is certainly not a serious blow to the far right, the fact is that as long as Mr Chirac and other European leaders refuse to address the rising problems of crime and immigration, people feeling neglected will turnout in support of the far right.
Milan, Canada

It will be interesting to see the final breakdown and particularly regional variations. It is possible that as in the first round that there will be marked differences. In the east and south Le Pen seems to have much more support than elswhere.

Also 18.5% of 80% turnout means more people voted for Le Pen in Round Two than in Round One. Quite worrying.
Selwyn Glick, France

You can win elections by inciting the desperate poor, but you can't build a formidable society with it. Ask the Germans

Evans Chisanga, Zambia
If nothing else, it will hopefully cure those on the Left of the self-indulgence of voting for minority candidates to try and prove a point. You'd have thought that the lesson of Ralph Nader voters letting in George Bush would have been enough.

Evidently not.....
Tim Barrow, UK

The French people have spoken, and done so very loud and clear. This is very much the sound of the future, worldwide, that's if humanity chooses to beneifit from civilisation. You can win elections by inciting the desperate poor, but you can't build a formidable society with it. Ask the Germans.
Evans Chisanga, Zambia

We have learned that the vote is important. People fought for the right to vote many years ago and many in France did not realise this. But at the least the Nazi has not won.
Rahul, London, England

I hope this empowers people in other countries to take a stand and vote against the far right.

This election was too close for comfort. Although it has been said since the 1st round that the chances of Le Pen winning were slim, there was still that doubt in the back of my mind, and that doubt was enough to awaken a lot of fears in me.

My message to other Europeans: don't wait for your second chance to say no to fascism. Vote. Vote for your ideals and against hate. Don't let yourselves fall into the trap the French people did.
Erin, Australian in France.

Tragedy is now assured. The establishment have been busy unlearning the lessons of the first round and now will happily revert to "Plan Ostrich".

It is still worrying that nearly one in five people living in France wanted an outspoken bigot as their leader

Matthew Wentworth, UK
The demagogue Le Pen could have acted as a touchstone to focus the political elites' attention on the cracks appearing in the system.

Voters have become sickened by corruption, collapsing law and order and the increasingly grasping welfare state, as it heads toward inevitable bankruptcy. Those cracks in the system will only get wider until something even more monstrous emerges.
Chris Layne, England

Whilst this result shows that the menace of the far right has been exaggerated by the media, it is still worrying that nearly one in five people living in France wanted an outspoken bigot as their leader.
Matthew Wentworth, UK

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Talking Point stories