Sunday, April 22, 2007
The 'Star Academy' generation


Sarkozy on horseback.

"It’s like a reality show, whoever gets the highest rating wins," says a young man delivering tables and chairs to CNN’s French election headquarters.

"Do you think your candidate will win?" I ask him.

"Frankly, whether my candidate wins or not, it’s all the same. It’s up to us to change things, not the politicians."

He likened this election to a popular TV program in France called "Star Academy," in which aspiring singers share a house, are filmed day and night and eliminated until a final winner emerges.

Skepticism I’ve heard often in France from those who vote with little conviction that a new generation of leaders will mark a break with the past; and the cynics add that personality has become more important than policies and reform proposals in what been called the "People-ization" of politics.

France often prides itself on being different to America in the way it selects its leaders. French people say they don’t care about their politicians’ private lives and that their political programs are more important than the clothes they wear.

But this election has changed all that: Socialist candidate Segolene Royal’s wardrobe has been dissected throughout the campaign; conservative Nicolas Sarkozy set up a "photo op" on horseback on the last day of the official campaign; centrist Francois Bayrou wants voters to know he is a man close to farmers and agricultural France. Image, this time around it seems, is as important as campaign promises. This year, it pays to be telegenic.

Candidates are hoping to cash in on the highest number of newly registered voters in a quarter century. Young people, brought up on a steady diet of fast food and reality television could tilt the balance one way or the other in a very close and suspenseful race. Who will they vote for? Not necessarily to the left, according to some polls.

But in the last few minutes we’ve learned turnout is stronger in the first four hours
of the vote than in any of the last four presidential races. Analysts say that normally favors the left.

In the era of "Star Academy," a surprise can be a vote away.

From Hala Gorani, CNN International Anchor/Correspondent
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