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ELECTION

France’s defiant abstainers: ‘I won’t be an accomplice to this disaster’

Defiant abstainers tell The Local why they will refuse to heed the many calls to block Marine Le Pen’s path to the presidency.

France's defiant abstainers: 'I won't be an accomplice to this disaster'
Photo: AFP

Marine Le Pen’s chances of becoming the next president of France appear to hinge on voters refusing to join the so-called Republican Front to vote against her.

Abstention for the second round of the French presidential election on May 7th could reach a record level due to the fact many voters feel as repelled by liberal Emmanuel Macron as they do by far right Marine Le Pen.

The slogans “Ni Macron, ni Le Pen”, “ni banquier, ni raciste” (neither the banker nor the racist) have been bouncing around Twitter this week along with other hashtags such as #SansMoile7mai (May 7th without me). Anti Le Pen/Macron slogans were also scrawled on banners held by young marchers in Paris this week.

Despite the numerous calls to vote for Macron against Le Pen coming from politicians of all parties, trade unions and religious leaders, who argue that abstaining means a vote for Le Pen, many voters remain defiant.

Many of those on the far left who voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round told The Local this week why they are going against the tide and refusing to block the far right’s path to power.

“I do not want to be an accomplice to the disaster that's going to happen anyway, therefore I abstain,” Marylène Martinot told The Local.

Yannick Geffroy, another Mélenchon voter who can’t abide “ultra-liberal” Macron or “fascist” Le Pen said: “Voting would legitimate the candidate who gets elected, so I can only choose militant abstention”.

Macron has tried to stress this week that he understands a win “would not be a blank cheque” to do whatever he wants, but some leftist abstainers do not want to give him a healthy margin of victory.

Mélenchon takes a barge along the Canal Saint-Martin in the lead up to the first round of elections. Photo: AFP

Others who won't turn up at the polling stations next Sunday have pointed out that a victory for Macron will simply lead to a victory for Le Pen in 2022, given that the globalisation and free market policies that have contributed to her rise will continue apace under Macron.

Thomas Dubois, a 21-year-old student who didn’t vote in the first round will abstain because he doesn’t know which candidate will be “better or worse for France”, but he admits he is interested to see what would happen under Le Pen.

“In both cases it will be complicated. In fact I want to see what Marine Le Pen would do. It won't be better but I just want to see what it would be like if she became president,” he told The Local.

'I'm not scared of Le Pen… France is in the shit anyway'

In the 19th arrondissement of Paris, one of only two arrondissements that backed Mélenchon, Duenas Pablo, a 26-year-old nurse, told The Local that the two remaining candidates are “the worst” options.

“There isn't a candidate who also holds my principles,” he said.

“I'm not scared of Marine Le Pen because on the European level she won’t be able to do everything she wants. She will do some harm but with Macron it will just be the same because we are in the shit. But apparently the French haven’t had enough of being in the shit.”

A 28-year-old woman named Marion, an actress who voted for anti-capitalist candidate Philippe Poutou in the first round said: “Abstaining is the least harmful choice. 

“Marine Le Pen is a candidate for a party that has xenophobic, racist and violent politics… but Macron’s programme is going to weaken the working classes and the minorities economically.”

The fraying of the traditional unified Republican Front is a far cry from 2002 when voters turned out en masse to block Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie when he made it to the second round against Jacques Chirac.

Chirac, a right wing president, was ushered back into power with 82 percent of the vote, something Emmanuel Macron can only dream of. The latest polls have him winning with 61 percent of the vote, down from 64 percent earlier this week.

Regis Blanchot, who voted for Chirac back in 2002 in order to block Le Pen, won’t be doing the same this time around.

“I'm not going to vote because none of the candidates represent my views,” he told The Local. “It's true that a Marine Le Pen win is a concern. But just because there is a larger danger I am not going to change my mind at the last minute and vote for Macron.

“It's difficult. I voted Chirac against Le Pen but then after that we had no confidence in him.”

''I'm a citizen, that's why I'm voting'

Mélenchon has been heavily criticised for not mobilising his voters to block Le Pen. The hard left anti-globalisation leader has left it up to the “conscience” of each of his followers. He was due to clarify his position on Friday.

Among his voters, between 13 and 16 percent will switch across the political divide and vote for Le Pen, polls say, while the rest will be split evenly between those who either back Macron or abstain.

While it’s clear many of Mélenchon’s voters will defy the pressure to turn out on May 7th, over in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, which voted heavily in favour of François Fillon, the story was a little different.

Many Fillon voters The Local spoke to felt supporting Emmanuel Macron was not only the obvious next step to keep Marine Le Pen out of power, but a civic duty.
 
The 16th arrondissement of Paris. Photo: Rose Trigg
 
“Of course, I'm a citizen so I'm voting,” Francoise Jourdin, 80, told The Local.
 
“Abstention, even a blank vote, is irresponsible because it risks letting the worst of the worst win. I want to stay in Europe, the consequences of Frexit could be serious, so I'm voting,” she added.
 
Fillon was one of the first candidates to come out in support of Macron after Sunday's results, urging voters to block the rise of the National Front, a party “known for its violence and intolerance,” adding “abstention is not in my genes”.
 
Many of his supporters in the 16th felt similarly.
 
“People who are abstaining don't remember history,” 68-year-old Laurence Gutmann told The Local.
 
“They've forgotten that Le Pen is someone who is extremely racist, and her father too – that's something that my generation can't forget,” he said.

But it appears that the tendency to abstain is gaining ground day by day, with a poll published this week showing the percentage of Mélenchon voters who intend to vote in the second round had decreased from when the survey was carried out earlier in the week – 64 percent down to 57 percent.

The same fall in voters saying they will vote could be seen among those who backed defeated Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon and conservative François Fillon. Worrying news for Macron.

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ELECTION

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.”

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