Postcard from SW France

It’s days to go before the first round in the 2012 French presidential elections. In Montbrun Bocage, a rural backwater south of Toulouse in the Pyrenean foothills, the atmosphere is hardly crackling with excitement.

People here certainly know their politics but generally fail to find much passion for politicians. Given the bluntness of occasional votes for individuals – the essence of Western representative democracy – it’s hard to blame them.

Graffitied campaign posters are not the most scientific indicator of local votes though they reflect what’s happened here in the past. When France chose Nicolas Sarkozy last time around, Montbrun’s few hundred voters wound up on the losing side.

The villagers should have more luck in this year. More rigorous polls suggest Sarkozy will survive the first round on Sunday and lose the second two weeks later to his Socialist challenger François Hollande.

Sarkozy’s poster in Montbrun has dollar signs scribbled over his eyes. His campaign slogan of “La France Forte” is cheekily switched to “Morte”, transforming a strong France into a dead one with a single letter. The addition of: “Don’t vote, that suits me fine” completes the picture. Hollande’s is untouched.

Marine Le Pen, the National Front candidate, has a felt-tip Hitler moustache and a blacked out suggestion of the Führer’s slicked-down hair. Though she won’t score much in Montbrun, national polling puts her projected share in the mid teens. Running her close will be Jean-Luc Mélenchon, his poster untouched. François Bayrou, sporting a clown nose on his picture, is slightly behind them both.

A straw poll of exactly two women voters, one 35-years old and the other close to double that, wouldn’t stand up to conventional pollsters’ rules. But so what? It certainly shows the sort of frustrations typical of voters all over the world. The idea that whatever voters chose, nothing much changes. The power of corporations to dodge taxes and flit from one country to another for the cheapest workers is one major problem. Another is the ever-present fear of countries getting skewered by global financial speculators.

Neither woman supports the main candidates, the younger one’s main issue being how best to register her protest. How do you say the whole system sucks, that whoever gets in won’t alter the threats to France and its euro-zone partners? Should you not turn up at all, leave your ballot unmarked or write “screw you” across the lot of them?

Whoever wins faces immediate pressure from the financial markets, a dynamite stick both Hollande and Sarkozy have juggled in campaigning. Each jabs at the other’s competence to meet the threat yet neither nails the fundamental question of why we’re all at the mercy of bankers and markets.

Which is why Montbrun tends to go its own way in politics.

The local mairie recently backed the school director in her refusal to put pupils’ names to an intrusive national database. An association runs the local weekly market, including a volunteer-run café whose proceeds funds other activities in the village. Regular documentary screenings and debate bring in views from around the world and a chance to talk about putting their lessons into practice here. People grow vegetables and swap seeds that don’t meet absurd EU rules, they trade work, buy wholesale food collectively, barter and generally dodge the system any way they can to live their lives.

As a native Scotsman resident here since 2005, I have no vote in national elections. I’m totally not bothered. Given what’s at stake and what influence even the natives have, I prefer the promise of acting truly locally while looking and thinking globally.

A campaign poster for French President Nicolas Sarkozy has an additional few flourishes added by a local graffiti artist in a rural village in SW France.