‘May 7th without me’: Could the second round be hit by mass abstention?

Whether it's those who dislike both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen or those who think there's no point voting because it's a certainty or perhaps even those who will prefer to head away for the long weekend rather than stay and vote, the second round could be hit by a wave of abstentions.

'May 7th without me': Could the second round be hit by mass abstention?
Photo: AFP

Now that the French are faced with a clear choice between anti-EU and anti-globalization Marine Le Pen and Pro-EU, pro-free market Emmanuel Macron it's unlikely there will be many, if any, undecided voters.

The battle lines between the pair could not be more clearly marked out.

But that doesn't mean everyone in France is happy with the selection of final round candidates. And it certainly doesn't mean everyone is going to vote.

Which Marine Le Pen will be quite happy about.

In 2002 the French took to the streets to protest against the place of Jean-Marie Le Pen in the second round vote and three million more people turned out to vote in the second round.

But in 2017 they took to Twitter to warn that they would abstain for the second round vote.

The hashtag #SansMoiLe7Mai, which literally means “Without Me on May 7th” has been trending since Monday morning.

Many voters said they would refuse to cast a ballot in the second round on May 7th because they did not want either Le Pen or Macron.

Many tweets referred to the “fascist Le Pen and the banker Macron”.

“#SansMoiLe7Mai In the second round I won't vote for either Le Pen the fascist or Macron the banker. Let's go to hell and see what happens next,” said the tweet.

The tweet like most of those posted under the hashtag appeared to be from leftist voters unhappy that neither Jean-Luc Melenchon or Benoit Hamon made the run off vote.

Those on the far left may struggle to join the so-called “Republican Front” (the left and right versus the far right) against Le Pen, because for them, Macron represents banks and finance and is therefore a sworn enemy.

“Between Le Pen, a racist and xenophobe, and Macron, who is about finance and free markets, it's a choice between the plague and the cholera,” said French political expert Thomas Guénolé, when analysing the choice ahead for leftist voters.

But it's worth pointing out that many others took to Twitter to blast those who were talking of abstaining and warn them of the dangers it poses.

Whoever wins the Twitter battle Macron should perhaps not expect to benefit from the kind of support that Jacques Chirac was able to mobilize in 2002, when he won 82 percent of the vote.

Mélenchon’s supporters are most likely to abstain in the crucial second round, according to a survey by French consulting firm Odoxa-Dentsu. Forty one percent of the far-left candidate’s supporters say they would prefer not to vote at all than to chose between two political visions they so strongly oppose.

Melenchon refused to join the chorus of politicians asking voters to block Le Pen. He has since been heavily criticized.

A Harris interactive poll said a third of François Fillon's voters would also abstain, while one in five of Hamon's supports will stay away from the ballot box.

One Hamon supporter, a 24 year old photographer named Hugo Bacoul, told The Local, “We can’t let someone like Le Pen get into power. Macron is not much better. He is just not as bad.”

Both Hamon and Fillon have called on voters to back Macron.

Apart from the angry abstainers refusing to give their vote to either candidate, there fears that many voters will just stay away confident that Le Pen won't win.

Unlike in 2002 when Le Pen's appearance in the second round was an almighty shock, in 2017 French voters are used to her or her party being in the second round and then losing. 

“The very worst scenario – and the most dangerous and irresponsible one for the future of France – would be to assume that an eventual Macron victory was a certitude,” wrote Jérôme Fenoglio, director of Le Monde newspaper.

It's also been pointed out that May 7th is a long weekend in France, due to Monday May 8th being a public holiday. Traditionally many French head away for the weekend and they will do so again this year. Those who feel a civic duty will have set up a proxy vote to allow someone else to cast their ballot but many others won't have for the reasons stated above.

“The risk of mass voter abstention – given that the second round falls on the Sunday of a long weekend – is also significant. Macron now has less than 15 days to prove to reluctant voters that he understands the magnitude of the shock suffered by the French political system,” wrote Fenoglio.

Analysts also expect a record number of “blank votes” to be cast this year. In 2012 there were two million.

In the first round the abstention rate was around 21 Percent, but it is expected to be significantly higher on May 7th.

All this of course is expected to help Marine Le Pen.

But Macron currently has a 20 percentage point lead over Le Pen in the polls so even with many abstentions he should still make it across the finish line comfortably.

But that doesn't mean the former investment banker has been given a true mandate from voters.

He will have a lot of people to win over.

by Blyth Brentnall / Ben McPartland




Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”