“I’m running,” he says. “Because it stinks.”
Disgruntled voters like Otzegag whose favorite candidates were knocked out in the first round of elections on April 10 are wild cards in the winner-all-runoff. How they vote – or vote not – on Sunday will in large part determine whether incumbent Emmanuel Macron gets a second five-year term or whether President Elysee Palais is handed over to far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, Which is an impossible but not impossible outcome. It will be seismic for France and Europe as they deal with the fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
With the stakes high, the decision has never been more difficult for left-wing voters, who see both Macron and Le Pen as a curse – a choice that some describe as “between the plague and cholera”.
“It’s terrible, enough to make one cry. I have sleepless nights in tears, not knowing what to do,” says Cleck Decentredex, a disabled and queer artist and live-streamer who played the first round. Hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon was voted in.
With 7.7 million votes, Mélénchon finished third behind Le Pen, only 420,000 votes away from the runoff. Le Pen and Macron have since spent a great deal of time and energy building support for Mélenchon’s now orphaned and hopeless reservoir of voters. It is an uphill battle for both of them.
In general, many left-wing voters are angry with Macron that he dynamited the French political landscape with his middle-of-the-road method of governance, diverting ideas, supporters, government ministers and political oxygen from mainstream parties on both the left and right. turned away from
His pragmatism is too vanilla and opportunistic for many left-wing voters hungry for a sharper and more ideological political divide. More specifically, many describe the 44-year-old former banker as a friend of the rich and an oppressor of the poor. Some even blame him for the rise of Le Pen, saying that in trying to reduce support for the extreme right in France, Macron himself turned too far-right.
However, Macron’s saving grace is Le Pen as well. After years of drumming up about the impact of immigration and Islam in the country with the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, the 53-year-old is denounced by many on the left as a racist xenophobe, who seeks to defend France’s “liberties”. Too dangerous for principles. To always vote for “Equality, Fraternity”. Admitting defeat in the first round, Mélénchon said that his supporters “should not give a single vote to Madame Le Pen” – repeating the sermon four times.
But he stopped short of asking his voters to transfer their vote to Macron, instead leaving him alone to wrestle what Mélenchon described as a choice between “two evils”.
Some people will deliberately spoil their ballots, even putting toilet paper in the voting envelope instead of the candidate’s name, to show how blurry they see the options. Some will not vote. Some will vote without name.
These include 22-year-old Emma Froy of Paris.
“I’m going to vote because some women died for my right to do so,” she said. “But I’m going to cast a blank ballot because I don’t want to choose between any of them.”
Others will, almost literally, hold their noses and vote for Macron to keep Le Pen out. Some will support Le Pen, attack the president. Multiple polls indicate that Macron, who won the first round, is now holding a significant runoff lead, which is more than the voting margin of error. From the first round, Mélenchon’s voters are following him in greater numbers than Le Pen. But the outcome remains uncertain as many have yet to vote.
“I will make a decision at the last minute,” said retired electrical worker Pierre Gineste. Voting for Mélancheon in the first round poses the dilemma of a ballot for Macron in the second round, a blank ballot or not voting. He said he would not vote for Le Pen.
The choice is so difficult and divisive that friendships and families are being tested. Aitzeggh voted for the Green Party candidate in the first round; His daughter chose Melanchon. She then told her father that she could vote for Le Pen in the runoff because she could not feed Macron. Etzhegg said he responded with a warning: “If you vote for Le Pen, I will reject you.”
In 2002, when Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, shocked France by pushing the runoff, Etzhegg was among 82% of voters who came together behind the conservative Jacques Chirac, in a powerful rejection of the excessive authority.
In 2017, Etzhegg voted for Macron in the run-off – once again to become an outright barrage against Le Pen, this time the Marines. Macron won easily – 66% to 34% – but in the knowledge that many of his votes were against him. It will be the same on Sunday as well.
At first for him and with “sadness and disgust”, Etzhegg will refrain, as Macron’s first term has been “five years of cholera, five years of rubbish, five years of destruction” and Le Pen is not an option for him.
“I don’t want to be a barrage anymore,” he said. “I have enough.”
Descentredex, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, worked long and hard on his choice – and then decided that Le Pen’s appearance again in the runoff left him no choice.
It is the first presidential election in which Decentredex is old enough to vote and it will end with a reluctant vote for Macron.
“Winning Macron would be a catastrophe, but going through Le Pen would be criminal,” Decentreux said. “I don’t want to do it but I feel obliged.”
Associated Press journalist Alex Turnbull contributed.
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