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France's presidential campaign has seen many surprises, and more are still to come.
It's been five years since the French last met at the ballot box. Then, 28.40 percent of the electorate stayed home during the first round of voting.
A lot has changed in five years. France has 3.3 million new electors, young people voting for the first time, and several new candidates.
Indeed, Nicolas Sarkozy, S gol ne Royal, Fran ois Bayrou, Fr d ric Nihous and G rard Schivardi are all making their maiden runs for the presidency. However only the first three on the list actually believe they can be elected, or at least finish in the top two places and reach the runoff.
And it seems the French have a lot to say on the subject. As of Sunday evening, the turnout had already reached 74%, 15 percentage points more than at the same time in 2002.
However, the campaign's main interest is being created not by the candidates themselves, or even by their political platforms, but by the electorate.
The French have changed. Until 2002, two questions were taboo in France: "How much do you earn?" and "Who will you vote for?"
In 2007, people say who they will support and why they like a particular candidate and dislike another. And for the last two or three months, it is all they have been talking about.
The French elections have always the scene of debates and television shows where celebrities take a stand and publicly support a candidate. But this time, the phenomena has spread. Everybody takes a stand.
However, journalists still face difficulties if they express their opinions, even in private. Alain Duhamel of French Television was suspended for the duration of the campaign after he said in a private discussion that he would vote for Bayrou. And Duhamel's colleagues at French Television, B atrice Sch enberg, who is married to a minister, and Marie Drucker, who is dating one, decided on their own to take vacations until a new president is chosen.
Still, the change in behavior is widespread. For example, when Rachel was learning Hebrew in a kibbutz, a few months before she made aliya, she was asked the classic taboo question: "Who will you vote for?"
As a French woman, raised in the values of the Republic, she was angry and offended. She saw the inquiry as an invasion of her privacy.
Today, Rachel not only replies to the question without blinking, she even asks it herself.
What can explain this new attitude?
The shock created by far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen coming in second and reaching the runoff in the 2002 vote is a main reason. Those who oppose him want to publicly affirm their disdain for the man, and his supporters are no longer afraid to be seen as such.
Politics now interests the French. They finally believe it matters and that their vote matters, and they want to shout it out loud.
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