News / Europe

French Vote to Test Whether Political System Reflects Diverse Population

Fleur Pellerin pose for the first annual Washburne Award for innovation in diversity at the US Embassy in Paris, May 23, 2012Fleur Pellerin pose for the first annual Washburne Award for innovation in diversity at the US Embassy in Paris, May 23, 2012
Fleur Pellerin pose for the first annual Washburne Award for innovation in diversity at the US Embassy in Paris, May 23, 2012
Fleur Pellerin pose for the first annual Washburne Award for innovation in diversity at the US Embassy in Paris, May 23, 2012
Lisa Bryant
MONTREUIL, France - France's left is expected to sweep legislative elections, in a trend that saw Socialist Francois Hollande elected president last month. But from the Paris suburb of Montreuil, The vote will also test whether the country's political system can reflect its multiracial electorate.

Campaigning in France

Razzi Hammadi seems to know everybody in Montreuil. But he is not looking for friends. He is looking for votes. An ethnic North African, the 33-year-old Socialist is campaigning for a seat in France's National Assembly.

"I run because I want to represent my people. My people are all the persons who are coming from socially difficult situations. My people are all the persons who want change," said Hammadi.

Political change - but also social change. Hammadi is among dozens of minority candidates vying to become one of the assembly's 577 deputies. They represent the increasingly diverse face of France.

French law forbids statistics based on racial or ethnic origin. But experts estimate racial minorities make up about 10 percent of the population. Yet only about a dozen National Assembly deputies are black or ethnic Arabs.

Hammadi believes voters want to change this. "I think that they are ready. I think that they want this," he stated. "And they want the France looks more like the country and the nation."

A call for more diversity

Few French towns are more diverse than Montreuil. About a quarter of the population is foreign-born. Many more are second- or third-generation immigrants.

Resident Emmanuel Flipo likes the town's international character. "Here is a mix of every people on the planet - the second city of Mali, for example, there's a lot of Malians. And they bring something very important to Montreuil…that mixture makes sense to me," he explained.

Another resident, French-Guinean Alain Sankhon, also feels comfortable in Montreuil.

Sankhon says minorities are increasingly represented in politics - not only in Montreuil, but across the country. He credits former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy for raising their profile.

But sociologist Michel Wieviorka says there is a lot more diversity in the private sector than in government. "If you look at the football team, you have people of all colors. If you look at…the artists, diversity exists. In business, you are going to have more diversity," he said. "And many people say, we are in favor of diversity - not for moral reasons, not for ethics, but for economic reasons."

But even French politics are changing. "All the political parties say something like, 'we have to introduce more diversity among our candidates.' They all say that. And they all try to have a certain number of candidates that can win," said Wieviorka.

But minority rights activist Louis Georges Tin says it is still not enough. A survey by Tin's association, CRAN, finds only 3 percent of this year's legislative candidates are of black or Arab origin.

"So now, what we need is a law - a law for diversity, exactly as we have in France for women and men [parity law] - that is what we need," Tin noted. "I don't think there's any other way to go and increase the number of black[s] and minorities in the parliament."

But affirmative action - or what the French call "positive discrimination" - is not popular here. Hammadi is also against it. He says he is confident he will win these elections. But he wants to be elected on his merits and not on his appearance.

You May Like

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs