On Apr. 23, the results of France’s first round presidential elections set the stage for a face off between far-right xenophobic candidate Marine Le Pen will face the neoliberal former investment banker Emmanuel Macron.
But 15 years after the 2002 elections, which for the first time saw a National Front’s candidate (Le Pen’s father) running against a politician from “the establishment” (former President Jacques Chirac), French voters seem so “blasé” with the results that they may not mobilize as much against the far-right this time.
The abstention rate is expected to reach a record high on May 7, as last Sunday’s numerous calls to support Macron were later undermined by the candidate’s own mistakes. Between Sunday and Thursday, the former economy minister of the socialist government had already lost 4 percentage points according to an Ipsos poll — down from 63 percent to 59, while Le Pen rose from 39 to 43 percent. What happened then?
First, Macron came under fire after he celebrated in advance of his uncertain victory in a fancy brasserie of Paris, while most of the country was mourning the victory of the far-right for the second time in French history. With less of a quarter of the popular vote tallied, many found the candidate arrogant for taking his election for granted thanks to the probable anti-National Front vote that would turn in his favor in the second round.
Moreover, despite this extremely low support, Macron firmly refused to change a line of his program or to negotiate alliances — another blow to the many voters who did not support him last Sunday, but still feel compelled to do so on May 7. For instance, the same survey found that only 40 percent of the people who voted for progressive candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon would vote for him in the second round — a 13-point drop in only a few days.
On the other hand, the day after the election Le Pen announced that she temporarily suspended her presidency for the infamous National Front, in a bid to appear more moderate and appeal to a larger spectrum of voters. Le Pen also reached a highly symbolic alliance with the eurosceptic leader of a center-right party, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who encouraged the 5 percent of people who supported him on Sunday to vote for Le Pen. If she wins the vote, she promised to appoint him as prime minister.
On Wednesday, another embarrassing moment saw Macron being insulted by workers from Whirpool, a domestic appliance factory in Amiens, northwest of Paris, right after Marine Le Pen enjoyed a much warmer welcome on the industrial site.
While 295 jobs are threatened by outsourcing to Poland, Macron attempted to explain the benefits of globalization and promised he will do his best to secure their jobs — just like socialist candidate Francois Hollande promised ArcelorMittal workers in Florange, before the site definitely closed shortly after he was elected.
In France, the annual May Day demonstrations are being combined with anti-fascists demonstrations meant to counter the traditional far-right celebration of catholic Joan of Arc’s victory against the British invaders. Since 1995, anti-fascist groups also commemorate the anniversary of the killing of Brahim Bouarram, a bystander that fascists threw to the river after the far-right rally that year.
But with the current tensions mounting ahead of Sunday’s vote, authorities have boosted security in anticipation of tomorrow’s protests. In recent weeks, anti-fascists rallies have turned into violent clashes with the police and arrests — not too surprising, considering that up to 60 percent of active police officers planned in January to vote for the xenophobic and anti-immigration candidate, according to a Cevipof poll.