France Elections: Mélenchon’s 7.7 million voters hold the key to the Elysee | International

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A large campaign photo of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the slogan “another world is possible” greets commuters exiting the metro in Saint-Denis, a few hundred meters from the basilica where the kings of France are buried. Pasted on the electoral poster of the leader of France Insumisa, a pamphlet celebrates that in this city on the outskirts of Paris, the presidential candidate who came in third place at the national level, was the most voted here, with 61% of the votes. “The fight continues!” reads another poster also plastered over the face of the populist leftist politician, whose voters are now actively courted by the candidates in the final round on April 24. Both the centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, are aware that the 7.7 million votes melenchonists from the first round they will have the key to the Elysee that they both yearn for.

No one knows for sure what that key will unlock. On the night of the first round, Mélenchon reiterated three times the importance that, in next Sunday’s meeting, “not a single vote” went to Le Pen. But he also did not ask to support Macron, as other leftist candidates did – the socialist Anne Hidalgo, the environmentalist Yannick Jadot or the communist Fabien Roussel – and the conservative Valérie Pécresse. This Sunday, Mélenchon’s team announced an internal consultation in which 215,292 people participated (a tiny part of those who voted for the left-wing candidate) about his intention to vote in the second round. They could choose between voting blank, abstaining or voting for Macron. Le Pen did not enter the consultation. Only a third of the participants (33%) say they will vote for the outgoing president. The rest will abstain (29%) or vote blank or null (38%).

It remains to be seen whether these results – which in no case, Mélenchon insists, are equivalent to a vote slogan – will have an impact. The problem, point out analysts such as Martin Quencez, deputy director of the Paris office of the American think tank German Marshall Fund, is that only 50% of Mélenchon’s votes in the first round were votes. melenchonists “of conviction”. The other 50%, he points out, “have no interest in following Mélenchon’s instructions, which explains why the transfer of votes in the second round is quite fluid.” Many of those votes (up to a third of the votes for the leftist, warn Quencez and other analysts), especially the anti-system ones, are tempted to follow Le Pen’s call, which seeks to reverse the Republican front that has so far prevented him from reaching to power in an “anti-Macron front” under the motto, much repeated these days on social networks, of “everything except Macron”.

A ‘mélenchonista-lepenista’

In Saint-Denis, Marco has it clear. On April 10, he voted for Mélenchon, but next Sunday, he will vote “for Le Pen,” he says as he drinks a beer in one of the bars that surround the market in the square, where this 62-year-old retiree who worked all his life “here and there” helps from time to time in some position to complete his meager pension. Marco, who does not want to give his last name (neither do the other voters interviewed), is the son of an Italian immigrant and a descendant of exiled Spanish Republicans. He defines himself as a “lifelong communist”, but he is not choking his beer for now going to the opposite side. It is not a vote convinced by Le Pen, he underlines, but an attempt to prevent “Macron from screwing us for another five years”, he says, after “running a country as if it were a company”.

After talking for a while, and looking at the many migrants who fill the market of this impoverished city on the outskirts of the capital where he has spent his whole life, he says that something of a heavy hand with those young people of foreign origin “who steal and smoke shit (drug)” would not be bad. That they are not all, she underlines by taking a look at the owner of the bar, of Algerian origin and who listens in silence although he has slipped a while before that he will vote for Macron. But these young people have made neither he nor his daughters feel “safe” when they walk through Saint-Denis, and that cannot be, he maintains. Nor does he dislike imagining a “different Europe, not this Europe of the rich, with a strong France”; he acknowledges, however, that he is delighted that there is a single currency and no internal borders.

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The ‘mélenchonist-abstentionist’

That Lorena, a 26-year-old philosophy student and Mélenchon’s voter, is a convinced “anti-fascist” does not prevent her from understanding Marco. “Among those who will vote for Le Pen there are many people who are not racist, but are tired of Macron, because all he has done is despise us,” she says. This 26-year-old Franco-Colombian Parisian was one of the first to participate last week, along with half a thousand students, in a bull run “against Le Pen and Macron” at the same Sorbonne university in Paris where, half a century ago, , other students led the protests of May 68 that shook the Government of Charles de Gaulle. For Lorena, repeating the 2017 final in the presidential race (again Macron and Le Pen) is a “scam”. For this reason, and although she knows that her decision could facilitate the far-right’s arrival at the Elysee, next Sunday she will not go to vote, like so many others melenchonists. “There is no alternative to abstention for us. Macron is not an option, even though we know that the National Rally [el partido de Le Pen] it’s there,” he says. “The ballot boxes were too small for us, we need something else. Mélenchon was about to achieve it, but once again he has not succeeded and once again we have to put up with two options that are not an option, ”he insists.

“I will vote for Macron even though I hate him”

Thomas’s face twists as he thinks about Sunday the 24th. “I will vote for Macron, even though I hate him. And I will vomit when I leave the polling station”, says this 22-year-old who has interrupted his studies to become a professor of plastic arts because he does not see the future clearly. What he is clear about is that, although he considers that Macron and Le Pen “are the two sides of the same coin” and that the president “has carried out a policy that has led to the increase of the extreme right in France”, a vote for “Marine Le Pen is a deadly danger.” “It’s a risk we can’t take,” he stresses. Hence, even if he has a stuffy nose, he will vote on Sunday and he will do so for the current president. Hoping, he says, that at least social pressures — the student protests these days, the occupation of a Paris street by the environmental movement Extinction Rebellion — will give him something to think about and, perhaps, change his policy somewhat. .

“I think Macron is also dangerous and I have no illusions, I am convinced that if he wins we will have a Le Pen again in five years. But, strategically, he is the least bad thing and if we manage to have a counterweight to impose some of our issues and needs on him, we have nothing to lose by trying ”.

On Saturday, at a rally in Marseille, land mélenchonista, Macron promised more efforts in ecology: two specifically dedicated ministers and a prime minister “in charge of ecological planning”. A message that seemed addressed to the ears of the Thomases all over France. The question is whether, next Sunday, there will be more people like this young man or, on the contrary, whether the abstentionist Lorenas or even the Marcos converted into lepenists.

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