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A French mayor named Konaté?

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Latest update : 2008-03-10

Lists for the upcoming French local elections feature plenty of candidates of mixed origin, such as mayoral candidate Aminata Konaté, but chances of success are limited.

How many mayors of foreign origin, representing social ‘diversity’ as the French expression goes, will France elect in the country's local elections on March 9 and March 16? For Aminata Konaté, a right-wing candidate of Malian origin, the list of election winners may turn out to be longer than expected. “France is evolving,” she told FRANCE 24. “The mentality of French people and public institutions is changing.”

Konaté, who boasts the support of French Prime Minister François Fillon, hopes to be elected on the merit of her campaign programme rather than because she represents French social diversity. “Of course, one must continue to change mindsets in France, as there are many who would never vote for a black woman like myself. But one thing is certain – France is no more a ‘white’ territory and French children of immigrant parents have different expectations and dreams than their predecessors.”

Konaté does not hide her admiration for French President Nicolas Sarkozy and thinks that he is the first to “employ policies which are open to minorities, to women and to the opposition.”

However Razzi Hammadi, representing the Socialist Party in the town of Orly, near Paris, has a different opinion. A sworn enemy of the word ‘diversity’, Hammadi prefers the term ‘realist’ when designating candidates of foreign origin. With Algerian and Tunisian roots, Hammadi is the national secretary of the Socialist Party and was elected socialist candidate for Orly by local party members. “The term ‘diversity’ is ambiguous,” he explained to FRANCE 24 in a telephone interview. Hammadi believes that there is a “pedagogical task to be achieved with politics and the media.”

“I am French, just like the other candidates,” he claims. Hammadi finds that the word ‘diversity’ has racist connotations. “We never use the term ‘diversity’ when speaking of Sarkozy, do we?” he continues, referring to the French president’s Hungarian origins.

“An aging and single-coloured  political class.”

Buffer candidates for political correctness or representatives of French social diversity? For Vincent Tiberi, research director at French institute CEPIVOF, ‘diversity’ is more a question of renewing the French political classes.

Interviewed by FRANCE 24, Tiberi opined that the French were tired of seeing the same people running state institutions. He feels that it is difficult to compare the real intentions of political parties and that some parties put forward a candidate of foreign origin knowing fully well that they will lose.

Sending these candidates to the immigrant-populated French suburbs to get the “black and the brown votes” shows a “misunderstanding of the way that immigrant communities vote in France,” says Tiberi. “We’re moving slowly,” he says. “Before, we never spoke of ‘diversity’, but since September 2001, with the rise of tension related to Islamist movements, and also because of the violence in some French suburbs, France realised that something was wrong. The problem, in reality, was the ageing political class that is more ‘white’ than its electors.”

France's national committee of social diversity, created by elected politicians of foreign origin and political personalities),estimates that in a total 254 French towns with more than 300,000 residents, 7% of candidates are of foreign origin.

However, only 0.05% of these candidates are running for the position of mayor. Others, who serve a purely functional role,  find their success depending on the distibution of votes since they can only be nominated for a position if their party claims a sweeping victory, the chances of which are fairly low.

Date created : 2008-03-07

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