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POLITICS

How coronavirus fear could impact the municipal elections in France

France goes to the polls on Sunday in the first stage of voting in municipal elections, but with up to a quarter of people saying they may not vote because of coronavirus fears, how could this impact the results?

How coronavirus fear could impact the municipal elections in France
Could fear of coronavirus stop people from going to vote during the municipal elections in France on Sunday? Photo: AFP

While the government has banned all gatherings of more than 1,000 people in an effort to delay the spread of coronavirus, the municipal elections will go ahead as planned on March 15th and 22nd, although with extra precautionary measures in polling stations. 

As well as taking measures to avoid queuing, polling booths will also be equipped with hand sanitser and voters are encouraged to bring their own pen.

Follow the latest on the situation in France here.

But could coronavirus fear genuinely impact on the result of the elections, in which locals officials from village councillors to the Mayor of Paris are elected?

“Absolutely,” said Alexandre Andorra, a data analyst at the French polling institute PollsPosition.

“It's the kind of variable that can really impact the election, much more than other variables,” he said.

Government party representative and Paris Mayor candidate Agnès Buzyn might suffer from a potential coronavirus effect on voter turnout. Photo: AFP

One in four might not vote

In a recent study by the French polling institute Ifop, 28 percent of the people asked said fear of the coronavirus might stop them from voting in the upcoming elections. Sixteen percent of these said they had already decided that they would not vote.

In the capital the number was even higher. Thirty-six percent of Parisians said they might not vote on Sunday because of the coronavirus, 25 percent of whom had already made up their mind.

What does that mean?

“It's likely that [the coronavirus effect] will mostly impact areas that are leaning towards the centre, and not those who are leaning heavily towards the right or the left,” Andorra said.

Centre voters were a more volatile group than voters who stand firmly to the right or the left, according to Andorra, who has worked on an election model that aims to predict the results from the municipal elections in Paris (accessible here).

That could mean bad news for government party La République en marche (LREM), which will be chasing voters from both the centre-right and centre-left.

However, being a new party, LREM was never expected to do a particularly outstanding local election – even prior to the coronavirus outbreak – as the party lacks the deep-rooted local support that can be found with other parties.

Young people are less inclined to vote than the old following the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: AFP

Seniors and right wingers more inclined to vote 

“Right wing voters are the least likely to abstain [from voting due to the coronavirus],” Ifop’s François Kraus told Nouvel Obs after the study was published.

The study had revealed that young people and those who voted for parties on the left were more inclined to stay home on Sunday than older people and those who voted for parties to the right of the political spectrum.

In fact, the oldest participants revealed themselves as the most adamant group of voters in the Ifop study – despite the fact that elderly people seem to be most at risk from coronavirus.

READ ALSO The everyday precautions you can take to stay safe in France

Only 11 percent of the respondents who were older than 65 said they would not vote and 12 percent said they might not because of the coronavirus, 23 percent in total. 

In comparison, 19 percent of the people aged 18-24 said they would not and 21 percent said they might not vote – 40 percent in total. 

The slightly older were a little more inclined to vote, with 25- 37 percent of the people aged between 25 and 34 saying they might not vote, 25 percent of whom where certain. Of those in the age group 50-64, 28 percent said they might not vote, while 17 percent were certain.

“It's a traditional pattern,” Andorra said.

“The elderly go and vote and the younger don't.”

MAP Which parts of France are the worst affected by coronavirus?

Sitting Socialist Party Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, could have to hand over her seat after the election. Photo: AFP

Coronavirus as a convenient excuse

Some of the disinclined voters could also be people who had lacked motivation to vote from the outset, but found it easier to blame the coronavirus than simply saying that they didn't feel like voting.

“It's impossible to say how many of these people actually will stay home because of the coronavirus and how many will be using the virus as an excuse to stay home,” Andorra said.

Whatever the motive, the result would be the same:

“It means that the people who will go and vote are the highly motivated ones, those who are very clear-minded about who they will vote for,” Andorra said.

“In Paris you will see that some of the strongest motivated people either really dislike the sitting mayor, or really like her.”

Still, Andorra said it was too early to say if the impact of the coronavirus fear would have a significant impact.

“The big question is whether the impact of the coronavirus will discourage one part of the electorate more than others,” he said.

“If the impact is uniform on the country as a whole, chances are small that this will have an impact on the election results.”

MAP: Which regions of France are most affected by coronavirus?

From voting to hand washing..

Even if a large part of the respondents said they were worried enough about the coronavirus to stay home on voting day, far from all of them had said to have integrated the recommended sanitary habits to limit the risk of the contagion.

While 72 percent said they washed their hands every time they went to the bathroom, the number fell to 54 when it came to washing before eating. Less than half (47 percent) said they washed their hands after taking public transport and only 25 percent after blowing their nose.

Only 9 percent had followed the government's advise on stopping la bise with their close friends.

READ ALSO: Bise blues – How the French are coping with the coronavirus kissing ban

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POLITICS

Several French parliament candidates stand down after assault allegations

The #MeToo anti-sexual harassment movement is finally reshaping France's sexist political culture, with several politicians running for parliament in upcoming elections forced to stand down over alleged violence against women.

Several French parliament candidates stand down after assault allegations

Several French feminist politicians and journalists launched the “MeToo Politique” movement last November to decry sexism in politics and to demand that men accused of sexual violence be systematically thrown out of office.

Six months later, their bid to shake up politics appears to have taken root, with several prominent candidates for the June legislative elections accused of violence against women throwing in the towel under pressure.

Jerome Peyrat, a candidate for President Emmanuel Macron’s LREM party who was found guilty of violence against his former partner, will no longer stand, party chief Stanislas Guerini said on Wednesday.

Guerini had prompted an outcry earlier in the day by appearing to downplay the issue.

“(Peyrat) is an honest man. I don’t think he is capable of violence against women,” he told FranceInfo radio.

Peyrat, who was an advisor to former presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy as well as to Macron, was handed a suspended fine of 3,000 euros ($3,160) in September 2020.

Medical examinations seen by the Mediapart news site noted bruises on the face, neck, arm, shoulder and wrist of Peyrat’s ex-partner, as well as jaw pain and a post-traumatic stress disorder. She was signed off work for two weeks.

“Nominating someone to stand as an MP means giving them weight and a platform,” said local Paris politician Alice Coffin. She is a founding member of the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, created in November when “MeToo Politique” was launched.

“We cannot celebrate abusers,” she told AFP.

Taha Bouhafs, who was running for MP on a hard-left ticket with the France Unbowed movement (LFI), also stepped down last week after several women came forward to LFI and accused him of sexual assault.

Candidates dropping out is a sign things are changing, said Fiona Texeire, a staffer at the Paris City Hall and founding member of the Observatory.

“(But) the true victory will be when parties do the work internally and don’t nominate people accused of sexist or sexual violence,” she added.

Boys’ club

French politics has long been perceived as a boys’ club.

French women did not win the right to vote until 1944, several decades after their British, Dutch and American counterparts.

The country has never had a female president and it was not until this week that Macron named the second-ever female prime minister, Elisabeth Borne.

But a series of high-profile sexual violence cases involving prominent politicians have shaken the political sphere.

In 2011, when powerful Socialist politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York on charges of trying to rape a hotel maid, the French political class closed ranks behind him.

Such a stance is much more unlikely in the aftermath of #MeToo, experts say.

In recent years, prominent political figures such as Green politician Denis Baupin and former environment minister Nicolas Hulot have been forced to retire from public life following accusations of sexual harassment or abuse.

Hulot withdrew from public life in November last year after a documentary aired on prime-time television featuring several women claiming he sexually abused them, including a woman who says he raped her when she was a minor.

Macron’s decision in 2020 to appoint Gerald Darmanin as interior minister — even though he was accused of rape, sexual harassment and abuse of power — also drew heavy criticism, even sparking demonstrations.

However Darmanin has denied any wrongdoing and prosecutors in January asked for the case to be dropped.

‘By nature sexist’ 

“The mediatisation of sexist and sexual violences has definitely evolved in favour of women these past years,” said Merabha Benchikh, a sociologist from Strasbourg University in eastern France.

But #MeToo has had less effect in France than in Britain and the United States, Benchikh added. She put this down to a culture of seduction in France she says often amounts to harassment.   

Shortly after the #MeToo movement began, around 100 French women writers, performers and academics including screen icon Catherine Deneuve wrote an open letter defending the “right to bother” women.

“We were the only country to have an opinion column signed by women against #MeToo,” said Coffin.

Three candidates for the presidential election in April — Eric Zemmour, Jean Lassalle and Francois Asselineau — had been accused of sexual abuse or harassment.

Asselineau denied the accusations. Zemmour refused to speak about the incidents, which he says are part of his private life, while Lassalle apologised if he “caused offence”.

“The French political field — by nature androcentric and sexist — has long excluded women, including in their attempts to speak out,” said Benchikh.

“Women’s voices are only beginning to free themselves from these relationships of domination,” she added.

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