Just been into town and it has, overnight it seems, been bombarded with posters and boards making it impossible to avoid the approaching municipal elections (which will be held on the 9th and 16th of March).
These elections happen every 6 years and allow the local citizens of a 'commune' to vote for their local government who will, in turn, choose a mayor. "Communes" are the lowest level of administrative division in France; they may have 2 million inhabitants like Paris (although the capital is, in fact, split further into arrondissements for the purpose of the elections), 60 000 like Perigueux or just 2 or 3! As of March 1st, 2007, there were 36,780 communes in France. There are 557 communes in the Dordogne departement, and, for example, Perigueux is one of these but one of my schools (10 minutes away by bus) is in a different commune, Trelissac.
So, through a two-round system of voting, citizens elect the members of the council (le conseil municipal) and, once elected these members then choose the mayor and deputy mayors. The number of councillors depends on the number of inhabitants in a commune. When voting you vote for a "liste" of candidates (usually equal to the number of seats available, and sometimes but not always bearing the name of a political party). Depending on the size etc of a commune you are sometimes able to add/delete names from a "liste" so, for example, you could vote for X list but if you don't like Mr B and think Mr C from Y list would do a good job you could vote for exactly that; X list, minus Mr B, plus Mr C! Only lists which gain 10% of votes in the first round may go forward to the 2nd.
The mayor is both the commune's elected authority and the state's representative in it. He/she deals with the commune's budget, is responsible for security and public health, handles building and heritage issues which may arise, and manages primary school buildings and equipment.
Very interestingly certain government officials are allowed to run for the post of mayor as well, and (on the contrary to Chirac) Sarkozy is fully supporting this as a way to maximise his power. Nearly two-thirds of Sarko's 33 membered cabinet are up for election, includind Darcos, Education Minister, who is looking to be re-elected as mayor of the 'Gueux. This town, the Dordogne, Aquitaine, are all traditionally "left"-thinking (voting Royal in the second round of elections last year for example) however Perigueux has been in the hands of a "right" mayor for 48 years now! It is true that Darcos seems to have succeded in his bid to "redynamiser le coeur de la ville" since 1997; he has installed a multiplex cinema in the centre of town (and redesigned the area around it very nicely I'd say!), funded and backed the gallo-Roman museum, Versunna, restored the catherdral and greatly improved the reputation of the theatre. In 2005, Perigueux spent more on "culture" than any other city. But, this time, will his age and Sarkozy's problems in the polls prevent Darcos from beating socialist Michel Moyrand?
Attendons de voir.