French election

Stark choice for French voters in presidential poll

Ms Marine Le Pen cast her vote in Henin-Beaumont, northern France. If she is able to get over 30 per cent, it would be seen as a major coup. A polling station in Marseille, southern France, yesterday. Turnout was 65.3 per cent by 11pm Singapore time,
A polling station in Marseille, southern France, yesterday. Turnout was 65.3 per cent by 11pm Singapore time, the Interior Ministry said. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Ms Marine Le Pen cast her vote in Henin-Beaumont, northern France. If she is able to get over 30 per cent, it would be seen as a major coup. A polling station in Marseille, southern France, yesterday. Turnout was 65.3 per cent by 11pm Singapore time,
Presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron casting his vote with his wife Brigitte Trogneux in Le Touquet, northern France, yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS
Ms Marine Le Pen cast her vote in Henin-Beaumont, northern France. If she is able to get over 30 per cent, it would be seen as a major coup. A polling station in Marseille, southern France, yesterday. Turnout was 65.3 per cent by 11pm Singapore time,
Ms Marine Le Pen cast her vote in Henin-Beaumont, northern France. If she is able to get over 30 per cent, it would be seen as a major coup. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Macron favours liberal economic reform while Le Pen is all for protectionism

Anyone interested in sampling the mood of Paris voters in yesterday's tense presidential election needed only to look at the posters to see who was the more unpopular of the two candidates.

As far as the French capital city goes, it would be far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, 48, whose posters were found torn off the steel hoardings erected outside many polling stations.

Not that enthusiasm for her opponent Emmanuel Macron, former economy minister and leader of the newly founded centrist movement En Marche! (On the Move), was particularly high.

The choice for French voters was a stark one: Mr Macron favours liberal economic reform, as well as deeper engagement with the European Union. Ms Le Pen is all for economic protectionism, including taxes on goods produced abroad and the hiring of foreign workers, as well as more immigration controls. She is also hostile towards the EU.

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Mr Macron, 39, would beat Ms Le Pen 63 per cent to 37 per cent, pre-election polls predicted. Belgian newspaper Le Soir said polls yesterday showed he would win more than 60 per cent of the vote.

 
 
 

Still, this would not be a shabby result for Ms Le Pen and for Europe's nationalist right, which had failed, until recent years, to make significant inroads in elections since the end of World War II.

Of course, Paris is not France and Ms Le Pen is immensely popular in the heartlands the French call "France profonde".

One voter, who wanted to be known only as Bruno, was adamant that France cannot be understood from Paris.

"There are big problems in France. Not here (Paris)... Where I come from, the National Front vote has grown because people feel forgotten," he said, adding that he cast his vote with a sense of resignation.

"I expected some hope and I got none."

Polling began at 8am (2pm Singapore time), with queues getting longer as the day wore on.

The turnout reached 65.3 per cent by 5pm - two hours before most polling stations closed - versus 71.96 per cent at the same time in 2012, according to the Interior Ministry. Pollsters expect the final turnout rate to be about 75 per cent, which would be the lowest since 1969.

Despite almost the entire political establishment rallying behind Mr Macron, the possibility of abstention had figured in most calculations of electoral arithmetic.

A protest movement also emerged after the first-round vote on April 24, with demonstrators chanting, "Neither Le Pen nor Macron" , and clashing with police during Labour Day rallies on May 1.

In addition, despite conservative leaders urging voters to support Mr Macron, many traditionalists said they would not as they were angry that their preferred social policies would be ignored even if Mr Macron supported their programme for economic reform.

Other voters simply saw no one worth voting for.

Mr Abdoulrahim, who at 38 is just one year younger than Mr Macron, was working in a polling station but did not plan to vote. "There's no candidate for me," he said.

Another voter known only as Pierre, 58, cast a blank ballot. "I am centrist. Macron is nothing. He is for himself, he wants power; and Le Pen is for her ideology," he said.

One left-wing voter Christine Louis-Dit-Sully said she was "sick, angry and insulted" by being asked to support "the lesser of two evils".

Ms Louis-Dit-Sully was born in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, notorious for street crime, unemployment and, more recently, radical Islam. She now works in Germany as a research scientist and said France faces many problems, but that neither candidate will address them.

"Many things need to change! First, we need to believe again that we can create a better world than it is now," she said.

Still, voters like Ms Evane Pailler, 40, who voted for Mr Macron, said he might be a good president.

"I have hope, the hope of surprise," said the orthodontist.

The people are not finished speaking yet. Next month, French voters return to cast their ballot in parliamentary elections. Ms Le Pen's National Front has only two members in Parliament while Mr Macron's En Marche! has none.

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline 'Stark choice for French voters in presidential poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe