As rural Donzy votes, France is sure to follow

Shampoo bottles displaying caricatures of the candidates on sale at a hair salon in Donzy. For the record, it is Mr Emmanuel Macron's big toothy grin and Mr Francois Fillon's bushy eyebrows that are selling best.
Shampoo bottles displaying caricatures of the candidates on sale at a hair salon in Donzy. For the record, it is Mr Emmanuel Macron's big toothy grin and Mr Francois Fillon's bushy eyebrows that are selling best.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Mr Frederic Coudray, like his townsfolk, has taken a special interest in the upcoming elections.
Mr Frederic Coudray, like his townsfolk, has taken a special interest in the upcoming elections.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Town has a reputation for picking country's leaders

DONZY (Burgundy) • Foie-gras producer Frederic Coudray spends his days in a picturesque corner of rural France rearing ducks and geese. And following every twist of the country's presidential election.

Ask the 49-year-old who is going to win on April 23 and he whips out his phone. On the screen are the latest forecasts he has texted his friends for his home town of Donzy - which has mirrored the national outcome in almost every election in four decades.

"First round, Marine Le Pen 34 per cent, Francois Fillon 19.5 per cent," he reads, though he is struggling to be heard over the cackling of geese at the start of their force-feeding. He puts Mr Emmanuel Macron at 19 per cent.

Professional pollsters still project that Mr Macron, a 39-year-old independent candidate, will beat the Republican Fillon to get into the May 7 run-off, and then canter to victory over the nationalist Le Pen, though his lead has narrowed to five points, from as much as nine, a week ago. Mr Coudray, a Macron supporter who buttonholes locals around town to share his forecasts, sees Mr Fillon holding off Ms Le Pen in the final round, but by a couple of points at most.

"It's very close," he says. "I've got a neighbour voting (for) Le Pen, and more than half his workers too. Plus their wives."

For the past four decades, locals have voted in line with the national result in practically every presidential election, often mirroring the choice of both winners and runners-up. The only blip was 2012, when centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy led the first round vote in Donzy, while Socialist Francois Hollande was ahead in the national vote.

Political punditry may seem an unusual sideline for a Burgundy goose farmer. But the village of Donzy, two hours south of Paris, has a pedigree.

For the past four decades, locals have voted in line with the national result in practically every presidential election, often mirroring the choice of both winners and runners-up.

The only blip was 2012, when centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy led the first round vote in Donzy, while Socialist Francois Hollande was ahead in the national vote.

All the same, the village returned to form in the run-off, backing Mr Hollande like the whole of France.

The town's growing reputation as a political bellwether has given the locals a special interest in the democratic process. The hairdresser displays shampoos with caricatures of the five main candidates in the window - for the record, it is Mr Macron's big toothy grin and Mr Fillon's bushy eyebrows that are selling best.

Straddling two rivers and with a population of 1,640, Donzy is an attractive backdrop to the economic decline typical of rural France.

The iron-ore mining which saw the area prosper in the 19th century died out long ago. Today, only 48 per cent of households earn enough to pay income tax. Unemployment is above 15 per cent, five points higher than the national average, even with an influx of wealthy Parisians buying second homes.

"We're not a perfect microcosm of France because we've only got two or three immigrant families," said Mr Jean-Paul Jacob, 64, centre-right mayor since 2008 and a Fillon supporter.

"But we've got a good mix across the rural sector, blue-collar workers and office employees."

Mr Jacob also sees the anti-euro, anti-immigrant Ms Le Pen winning the first round with more than 30 per cent, but has Mr Macron beating her by 20 points in the run-off.

If Mr Fillon gets through to the run-off, Mr Jacob sees him winning by 10 points.

Most villagers have no doubt that their ballots will put Ms Le Pen, 48, in the lead at first. In the 2015 regional elections, Ms Le Pen's National Front came in on top in Donzy in both rounds, winning the run-off with 37.2 per cent of the vote.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2017, with the headline 'As rural Donzy votes, France is sure to follow'. Print Edition | Subscribe