Author: Chloe Farand
Disillusioned far-left voters have warned they will not be supporting centrist Emmanuel Macron against Marine Le Pen in the final round of France’s presidential election.
A total of 19.5 per cent of the electorate backed Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round vote 10 days ago, but the far-left candidate has given no instructions to his supporters over how to vote in the decisive round on Sunday.
Centrist and liberal Mr Macron is portrayed by his critics as the candidate of the same-old failed political system, while far-right Marine Le Pen is not an option traditional left-wing voters want to consider.
According to a consultation on the voting intentions of Mr Melenchon’s movement “La France Insoumise”, 36 per cent said they would spoil their ballot, 35 per cent said they would vote for Mr Macron and 29 per cent they would not vote at all. It suggests there might not be the flocking towards Mr Macron from the left wing in France that many observers expected.
One of the many shocks of this extraordinary election was felt in the town of Melun, to the south of Paris, where a community that has voted in conservative mayors at every local election since 1971 swung overwhelmingly in favour of Mr Melenchon’s anti-establishment candidacy.
Daniel, who helped organise the successful local campaign for Mr Melenchon, told The Independent: “We worked hard on our campaign in the area and by speaking to people, we managed to convince some who were ready to vote for Ms Le Pen to support Mr Melenchon instead.”
But when Sunday comes, Daniel said he intends to spoil his ballot and that he hopes the result will be tight enough to send a warning to mainstream politicians.
He said: “We want to show French people are fed up to see all the same politics. People want to see something new. A Macron presidency will no doubt see many current ministers back in government.”
A diverse and multicultural suburb, Melun has recently seen the development of a range of programmes to welcome and support refugees and migrants.
The town has a longstanding history of attracting immigrant populations but many, like Portuguese Alfonso Fernandez, 68, a Melun resident for 52 years, still do not have French citizenship and are unable to vote in the election.
In the town’s main library, people from Tibet, Eritrea, Syria and Iraq are learning French using the library’s many foreign language resources and other services.
An important culture hub in the heart of the town, only a few hundred metres from a prison, the library has become a vital centre of support for any newcomers.
But if on the surface the city shows welcoming sentiments to refugees, its left-wing voters will leave others to decide the fate of France’s immigration policy on Sunday.
Elizabeth, from the Republic of the Congo, said she was forced to flee her country because of fighting in her home town. She came to Melun in 2000 but is not able to vote.
She told The Independent that following the election’s first round, she was harassed in the street by a supporter of Ms Le Pen.
“On Saturday, I was verbally attacked in Melun. ‘We are going to vote for Ms Le Pen and you are going to go back to where you came from’, someone told me. There is already tension. We don’t know what we will be become of us.
“I came to France to study and came back here because it is the only place where I feel safe. All the candidates promise paradise but when they are elected, nothing happens,” she said.
With a population shy of 41,000, according to the latest Insee census, only just over 19,000 people were registered to vote in the election. Among those registered, one in three people abstained.
But the percentage of abstention and spoilt ballots could rise significantly on Sunday with many who voted for Mr Melenchon saying there will not support either Mr Macron or Ms Le Pen.
Timothé, from Ivory Coast, arrived in France at the age of 21. He too voted for Mr Melenchon in the first round but will spoil his ballot in the second. If he was compelled to choose, he said he would vote Front National.
He said: “I love this country and I have lived most of my life here but everything is getting worse. Ms Le Pen, at least, has a coherent programme. It is true that uncontrolled borders are leading to terror attacks. If we are welcoming people, we should be able to look after them and provide them with shelter – not let them on the streets of Paris.
“France is a mixed society and even if she is elected, Ms Le Pen can’t chuck out of the country all those who are not 100 per cent French.”
Eric Lafaille, from the group Attac, an alliance of several left-wing movements to fight against tax evasion, said many people from the group would have voted for Mr Melenchon but now the general consensus was anything but Le Pen.
“I think a lot of those who voted for Mr Melechon were young people who had never voted before, and they are unlikely to transfer their votes to either camp,” he said.