French presidential polls

40% of voters still sitting on fence

LA FERTE-SAINT-AUBIN (France) • Having a flutter on the horses in his local bar, Mr Eric Belouet picks his favourites without hesitation.

But when it comes to France's presidential election, he cannot make up his mind. "Really, I can't," says the 59-year-old, his eyes on the TV screen broadcasting the races.

He is among 40 per cent of voters who have yet to decide how they will vote with less than a month to go - or even if they will vote at all.

It is the highest rate of indecision France has seen at this point in a presidential campaign.

It adds yet another element of uncertainty to one of the most unpredictable elections in living memory.

Professor Anne Jadot, who teaches political science at the University of Lorraine, says the scandals and surprises in the campaign so far have left many voters on the fence. "This has created a lot of uncertainty and unexpected developments so we are talking less about the issues and policies," she adds.

La Ferte-Saint-Aubin was divided at the last election in 2012, voting narrowly for right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of eventual winner Francois Hollande.

Five years on, many in the quiet red-brick town of 7,400 people, at the edge of the hunting forests of Solognes, could hardly be bothered with politics in this election cycle.

"At the outdoor market, only one person in 20 talks to me about the presidential election," says mayor Constance de Pelichy.

France endured many months of speculation before knowing who was actually running for president.

Mr Hollande held off until December to announce he would not seek re-election, after five difficult years at the helm. It then took until late January, after a two-round primary, for Mr Benoit Hamon to emerge as the Socialists' candidate.

On the right, Mr Francois Fillon suffered weeks of pressure to abandon his presidential bid because of scandals over fake jobs and expenses as well as conflicts of interest. But he has insisted on staying in the race, even after being formally charged with misuse of public funds.

The typical election scenario is for the French to vote for their favourite candidate in the first round before trying to eliminate their least favourite in the second.

Polls predict that far-right leader Marine Le Pen is most likely to square off against the centrist Emmanuel Macron, formerly seen as an underdog, at the May 7 run-off vote. But if her opponent is Mr Fillon, former trade unionist Jacques Drouet says: "I'd leave my ballot blank as things stand now."

Other undecided voters are planning on simply staying away on election day, meaning abstention rates could be high - perhaps beating the 20 per cent who abstained in 2012.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2017, with the headline '40% of voters still sitting on fence'. Print Edition | Subscribe