Paris: The tall man in the elaborate three-piece suit adjusted his top hat, chewed his cigar and lifted his hands with the banner: “Immunitie Bancaire” (Bank Immunity). As the crowds thronged the marching route between Paris’ Place de la République and Place de la Nation on Monday afternoon, Francois Feer, the suited man, ironic slogan in hand, mulled over a hard choice: whom to vote for on Sunday as the country’s next president?
“I don’t like this choice,” said Feer, 65, shrugging. “Maybe I don’t vote. Let us see what is the risk of the extreme right winning. It depends.”
The French left has been left with two seemingly unpalatable options: the xenophobic, incendiary Marine Le Pen of the National Front, or the centrist, business-friendly Emmanuel Macron of En Marche, a new, year-old party. Both are seen as outsiders to the political establishment, and polls show that Macron is heavily favoured to win.
Feer’s little satirical performance piece was part of Monday’s May Day march, a massive annual event featuring demonstrators, unions, leftist groups; that takes place across France. This year, the marches acquired an even more political flavor: France votes for its president on Sunday. And union leaders had urged for a strong showing against the far right’s National Front. But the mood at the Paris march, dominated by many on the far left, was energetic but also unusually grim.
There was plenty of Le Pen bashing, but Macron wasn’t in danger of getting much love either. “Le 7 Mai, Dans les Salles: Alien versus Predator” (On May 7, in the Theatres: Alien Versus Predator), said one placard, “En Marche: Merde” (En Marche: S**t) said another. Flyers on the sidewalk fluttered in the wind; with pictures of both candidates and a headline that said “Peste ou choléra” (Plague/cholera).
In the first round of voting last week 19.6 percent voted for the candidate of the far left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who eventually finished a strong fourth. Eleven candidates squared off against each other, from which the race was whittled down to Macron with 23.7 percent of the vote and Le Pen with 21.5 percent. The country’s major political leaders have now endorsed the centrist Macron in an effort to stop Le Pen. However, Mélenchon has been circumspect; first he said he would consult his supporters, later his spokesperson said “not a single vote should go to the FN [Front National]”, a half-endorsement that did not explicitly favour Macron.
This has meant that many are considering registering their protest through the blank vote — or voting for no one on the ballot.
On Monday, the curly-hair woman from Morocco, with the bright smile, seemed to be taking that message seriously. Holding up a poster than said “Je Suis Difference” (I am difference), a plea for diversity, Sadia Eecharoo, 42, had decided she would “vote blanc” or submit an empty, unmarked ballot. Though she was born abroad and represents just the kind of outsider Le Pen rails against, she was clear she could not stomach Macron either. “I am scared of Le Pen, if she is elected there will be conflict,” she said. “But Macron represents the capitalist system.”
Alongside her marched Ginger Force, 28, just as determined to withhold her approval for both, and said as much in an emphatic banner. “Both are garbage candidates,” she said, brimming with righteous anger, “They are both thieves. I don’t want to vote. And voting is not the only way to change things, it is more important to protest.”
An entire collective, Le PenNon, built explicitly against Le Pen came out on Monday, and it was easy to see the strength of feeling against her; but there was less affirmative support of Macron, and much of the same distaste. These marchers had made a pragmatic choice.
“The main danger is Le Pen, first we must kick her out,” said Henri Chazelle, 70, a retired consultant and member of Appel des 100, a broad civil society coalition. “Then kick out Macron.”
It’s easy to compare this to what played out in the US: the eventual reluctant voting by the more leftist Bernie Sanders supporters for the more centrist Hillary Clinton, in an attempt to keep Donald Trump out. Many Mélenchon supporters will be holding their noses when they go to the polls on Sunday. And some are so dejected, they won’t even go all the way to vote in person.
“Since I don’t want to mark his name and put my vote in the box, I will be asking a friend to do it for me,” said Geraldine, 39, a graphic designer. France allows citizens to have others cast their ballot for them if they cannot do so themselves.
Though Macron is expected to win, both the unexpected Brexit and Trump victories means nothing is ever certain, and Mélenchon’s less than full-throated support for Macron threatens to divide his supporters on voting day. Florian Philippot, vice president of the National Front, said it was entirely possible some would vote for Le Pen, in an interview last week. Both Mélenchon and Le Pen have shown similarities through the campaign: they are Euro-sceptic and have denounced globalisation; both have tried to win over working class voters with their slamming of the establishment elite.
Pierre Vidalet, a member of Confédération Générale du Travail, a major national trade union, had already resigned himself to voting for Le Pen. “It is better that Le Pen wins now, after five years of Macron people will be even more tired and more disappointed,” he said. “Both parties are against workers.”
Updated Date: May 02, 2017 15:21 PM