“To abstain is to vote for Le Pen”: young Parisians assess their options | France
STanley did not vote in the first round of the April 10 presidential election and he said he would not vote in the April 24 runoff either. The 27-year-old from Bobigny, north of Paris, maintains his decision. Young father who has just finished his studies, he is interested in politics. But he had been “disappointed” by the left since the five-year term of socialist president François Hollande – presented by many as having driven the last nail in the coffin of the left. In Seine-Saint-Denis, the department in the north of Paris, abstention increased by three points in the first round, exceeding 30%, the highest rate in mainland France.
When asked why he wouldn’t go to the polls on Sunday, Stanley summed up the dismal record of incumbent President Emmanuel Macron. “The rich have become even richer and the poor even poorer,” he said. Since the Covid pandemic, between 5 and 7 million people – 10% of the population – have had to seek help from a food bank, according to figures from Secours Catholique.
Stanley notably criticized the management of the Covid crisis, which affected his mother, a hospital cleaning lady. “She never missed a day of work,” he said. “Macron promised a €1,000 (£836) bonus, but she didn’t see a penny more.”
Despite his abstention, Stanley was committed to life in his housing estate. He had set up a neighborhood association with other young people. But he said he just doesn’t believe politicians can change their lives. “We associations can bring about this change. Here, people are battling ramshackle housing, rats and cockroaches. These are not the kind of issues on politicians’ agendas,” he said.
Under the afternoon sun on the city’s esplanade, a handful of teenagers prepare to start a football match. At the entrances to the buildings, the name on everyone’s lips was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, [the leftwing candidate who was narrowly eliminated in the first round, leaving Macron to face the far-right Marine Le Pen]. Farid, 19, who did not want to give his real name, who lives with his mother, says he has lost interest in politics. “But I heard about Mélenchon on social media,” he said. “Everyone was calling to vote for him in order to dismiss Marine Le Pen.”
In Bobigny, where 23,366 people were registered on the electoral lists, the result of the first round is similar to the 37 other municipalities of Seine-Saint-Denis: Mélenchon, candidate of the Left People’s Union, comes first with more than 60 % of the vote, far ahead of Macron who took 17%.
Julien Talpin, a policy specialist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, said that was a factor behind the abstention rate. “The ‘it’s no use’ argument [in voting] it’s the idea that politics no longer has a hold on the daily life and problems of people who live in housing estates. It’s a feeling of resignation nurtured by decades of broken promises.
Resignation also in Colombes, in a district northwest of Paris where individual houses, new buildings and housing estates from the 1930s rub shoulders. Malek has lived in a housing estate since his arrival in France from Algeria. He said: “In my neighborhood the poor have been evicted to be replaced by wealthier residents. No one is mobilizing.
The city was divided, as evidenced by the scores of the first round where Mélenchon came first with 36% of the vote, followed by Macron with 31% and an abstention rate of 23%. Malek’s neighbor, Leïla, who did not want her real name published, is a young mother of two, living with her mother in the apartment where she grew up, and was an avid “abstentionist”.
“I never vote,” she said. “Let Macron or Le Pen get involved, it won’t change anything in my life. Whoever it is, I’ll still have to get up in the morning and go to work.
After Macron’s five years in power deemed particularly hard on the working class, hard hit by the Covid crisis, Malek and other young people from the working class suburb worried about a backlash from the “protest vote for Le Pen”. They had printed thousands of leaflets to mobilize people against Le Pen, who has never been so close to power.
Although he is convinced of the need to block the far right, Malek could not bring himself to explicitly call for a vote for Macron. “It hurts too much,” he said. “We are at this point because of him.”
Leïla had just woken up when Malek knocked on her door with a leaflet. She did not believe in Le Pen’s agenda, an anti-immigration platform that would prioritize French people over foreigners for housing, jobs, benefits and healthcare, and ban the Muslim headscarf in all public places, including including the street.
“We immigrants make France work,” said Leïla. “Do you think she’s going to fire us?” It’s impossible.” But she ended with a doubt about abstention. “When I saw that my cousin who wore the headscarf was going to vote for the first time, I said to myself: ‘Maybe it’ is important.’ My mother also wears a headscarf…”
There was also a law passed under Macron’s presidency known as the law against Islamist separatism – which makes it easier to close places of worship and Muslim associations – which has accentuated a climate of stigmatization. For five years, the front pages of the media have fed on the controversies around the Muslim headscarf and the so-called “Islamo-leftism”.
In a poll published by the newspaper La Croix, 70% of Muslim voters voted for Mélenchon, leader of the La France insoumise party, in the first round. Talpin said, “This is an important issue because Muslims feel like they are constantly at the center of a public debate that is going on without them. [Mélenchon] was one of the only candidates to take a stand on the subject.
At the Châtelet, in the heart of Paris, Mariam, 20, Ream, 21, and Taymour, 30, three young Muslims, were sitting together. Taymour, founder of the Muslim Students of France group, called Macron’s policy “state Islamophobia” and said “it’s not just a diversionary tactic, to talk about other things. When it all happens the days are a system. For Taymour, abstaining is a political act.
Ream, 21, a computer science student wearing a Muslim headscarf and heart-shaped sunglasses, said she refused to take responsibility for a second-round candidate choice. She had voted Mélenchon in the first round to stop the others. “I hope she makes it through,” she said [of Le Pen]. “I want things to explode and people to wake up! she added. Mariam and Taymour did not share his point of view.
“If Marine Le Pen passes, I will no longer be safe,” said Mariam, a drama student and waitress who wore the headscarf for a year. “I will really feel in danger. People who want to attack us will feel like they have the state on their side. She described Macron as a “nightmare”, but said the risk of a headscarf ban in public places and fear of the arrival of fascism pushed her to vote for Macron.
“Abstaining or returning a blank ballot is tantamount to voting for Le Pen. I don’t want to be responsible for what might happen to my community.