Meet generation “no compromise” — or “ni ni” (“neither nor”) as they are known here.
Made up largely of young or first-time voters, France’s refusenik generation participated massively in the election’s first round, mainly to back far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
But when Mélenchon failed to break through to the second round, pulling in fewer votes than scandal-tainted former Prime Minister François Fillon, a big portion of his supporters decided they had had enough of democracy and would vote no more.
Now polls suggest that more than 35 percent of Mélenchon’s supporters plan to abstain or cast invalid votes in the election’s final round on May 7 — a position of supposed neutrality that in fact penalizes centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and helps far-right leader Marine Le Pen, because most left-wing votes were expected to go to the ex-banker and former economy minister.
Mélenchon, aged 65, has declined to offer his mostly young supporters any guidance on what to do in the second round. Breaking with a decades-old tradition by which left- and right-wing candidates work together to keep the far-right out of power, Mélenchon also failed to clarify his personal choice or come out with a critical word against Le Pen, whom he has nonetheless denounced in the past. (Mélenchon said he would consult members of his France Unbowed movement through a vote before clarifying his own stance in a YouTube video, which has yet to be published.)
It’s easy to understand why Mélenchon would suddenly become so cautious. In June’s parliamentary election, he hopes to remain relevant by becoming the natural leader of a far-left opposition bloc that would seek to wield considerable influence over whoever is elected president on May 7.
Their blanket rejection brooks little subtlety, except for a slightly more sympathetic attitude toward Le Pen. Macron, they argue, is an undercover agent of international finance who will waste no time turning France into a gigantic casino for the ultra-rich. Le Pen runs a racist party, “but at least she has the merit of criticizing the banks,” wrote one Facebook poster.
Le Pen scandals count for little
To partisans of the “ni ni” vote, it does not matter that one of the candidates, namely Le Pen, is under investigation for having allegedly misused funds from the European Parliament. Nor does it appear to make any difference that Jean-François Jalkh, the man nominated to take over the leadership of her National Front party while she focuses on the presidential runoff, was shown to have disputed the use of Zyklon B in the Nazi gas chambers. (Jalkh stepped down to “defend himself” against accusations of Holocaust revisionism.)
On Thursday, partisans of the “ni ni” generation made a show of force in Paris — on the same square where many of them participated, 10 months ago, in the “Nuit Debout” movement — and in the western city of Nantes. A few thousand refuseniks marched holding up banners saying “Neither nor,” “without me,” or “blank vote.” They chanted slogans proclaiming their rejection of “the banker” and “the fascist,” while warning that they would oppose anyone who came to power with all their might.
The presidential finalists are paying attention. Macron urged potential abstainers, whom pollsters say may be more numerous than in any postwar presidential election, to show up on May 7, arguing that voting was a duty.
In addition to the video she posted on Friday, Le Pen’s campaign published a leaflet this week showing many points of convergence between Mélenchon and Le Pen’s election platforms. Its conclusion was not a call to action, but to do nothing that might go against their convictions: “Don’t vote for Macron.”