Photo: Flickr.com/Terrazzo

Photo: Flickr.com/Terrazzo

LILLE – With less than two weeks until the French elect the 36,680 mayors that will govern their municipalities for the next six years, it is time to look at the most important race: Paris.

If you thought the French electoral system hard to understand, Paris’ is even worse. Because of the its size and its important role as the capital, the municipality was under the direct control of the government until 1975, when the first mayor was elected. Since then, only three mayors have ruled the City of Lights: Jacques Chirac (until 1995 when he became President), Jean Tibéry, and Bertrand Delanoë, the incumbent since 2001.

They were elected through a different process than the rest of France’s mayors. The Paris, Lyon, Marseille (PLM) law, adopted in 1975, sets the rules for the election of the mayors in Paris, Lyon, and Marseille. Each city is divided into sectors – twenty arrondissements in the case of Paris – which elect a mayor and full council in each arrondissement through the same process as every other municipality in France.

A certain number of members in the arrondissement councils – which are proportional to the arrondissement’s population – are also elected to serve on the Council of Paris, which elects the Mayor of Paris. Since the number of representatives for each arrondissement is not exactly proportional to its population, it is possible for a candidate to become Mayor without winning the popular vote.

Despite his popularity, Delanoë has chosen not to seek reelection. For months, he has been helping  his first deputy, Anne Hidalgo, prepare to take over his role. She announced her candidacy in the fall of 2012 and has since managed to convince all of her potential PS opponents to rally behind her. Hidalgo, 54, has become the favorite in this election by leading a flawless campaign based on the continuity of her work alongside Delanoë.

Her opponent, Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, known as NKM, is a former Minister, representative, and mayor of Longjumeau, a town in the suburbs of Paris. She was the spokeswoman for Nicolas Sarkozy’s re-election campaign in 2012, though she criticized his most radical views at the time.

A moderate, environment-friendly right-wing candidate, NKM has experienced difficulties so far. She has not managed to rally the Parisian right-wing behind her and the primary she had to go through to secure her nomination was criticized by several other candidates. Charles Beigbeder, her opponent in that primary, chose to contest her nomination by leading a dissident campaign against her. He is running against her despite the orders of his party, temporarily leaving the UMP to run as a right-wing independent.

NKM also struggles with the public’s perception of her. She is perceived as bourgeoise and out of touch with the daily realities of Parisians. The Hidalgo campaign shared a video where NKM did not know the price of a subway ticket, stating it was €4 when it actually costs €1.70. She was also mocked for liking the “grace” of the Parisian metro, while for many it symbolizes the daily routine of “métro, boulot, dodo” – subway, work, sleep.

To win back Paris from the PS, NKM and her troops will have to conquer several arrondissements, while losing none. So far, this is not looking promising, as the swing districts –the 12th, 13th and 14th arrondissements—are still leaning towards the PS. The PS even has the chance to win some traditionally right-wing districts—the 1st, the 5th, the 15th or the 17th arrondissements.

Other candidates include Europe Écologie-les Verts candidate Najdovski, currently a deputy to Delanoë, who is likely to form an alliance with Hidalgo in between the first and second rounds of the election. The FN candidate is Wallerand de Saint-Just, Marine Le Pen’s lawyer. Other candidates include Marielle de Sarnez (Mouvement Démocrate), Danielle Simonnet (Front de Gauche), and Christian Saint-Etienne (Union des Démocrates et Indépendants).

Hugo Argenton is LJP’s French columnist. He lives in Lille, France. The opinions expressed in this editorial are his own and are not indicative of LJP’s views.