Love Thy Enemy: Macron’s Key Critics in France’s Elections | world news

By JOHN LEICESTER, Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — As France elects a president, Parisian artist Vincent Aïtzegagh goes into hiding, escaping to a bucolic village to avoid what for him — and millions of other left-leaning French voters — is a painful, if not impossible, electoral choice. For the first time in his life, the 65-year-old decided not to vote at all in the decisive ballot this Sunday.

“I’m running away,” he says. “Because it stinks.”

Disgruntled voters like Aïtzegagh, whose favorite candidates were eliminated in the first round of elections on April 10, are wildcards in the second round. How they vote – or don’t vote – on Sunday will largely determine whether incumbent President Emmanuel Macron gets a second five-year term or cedes the presidential Elysee Palace to far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, a seemingly unlikely outcome. but not impossible. it would be seismic for France and Europe as they deal with the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

With the stakes high, the decision has never been so difficult for leftist voters who consider both Macron and Le Pen anathema – a choice some describe as “between plague and cholera”.

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“It’s horrible, enough to make you cry. I spent sleepless nights crying not knowing what to do,” says Clek Desentredeux, a disabled and queer artist and live broadcaster who voted for far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round.

With 7.7 million votes, Mélenchon finished just 420,000 votes from the second round, in third place behind Le Pen. Le Pen and Macron have since devoted considerable time and energy to seeking support from Melenchon’s now orphaned and disappointed pool of voters. It’s an uphill battle for both of them.

Broadly speaking, many left-leaning voters resent Macron for blasting the French political landscape with his middle-of-the-road method of governance, siphoning ideas, supporters, government ministers and political oxygen away from the traditional parties of left and right.

His pragmatism is too vanilla and opportunistic for many left-wing voters eager for a sharper, more ideological political divide. Specifically, many describe the 44-year-old former banker as the friend of the rich and the oppressor of the poor. Some also blame him for Le Pen’s rise to power, saying that in trying to undermine support in France for the far right, Macron has himself moved too far right.

Macron’s saving grace, however, is also Le Pen. After years of hype over immigration and the influence of Islam in the country with the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, the 53-year-old is being vilified by many on the left as a racist xenophobe , too dangerous for France’s declared principles of “Liberty”. , Equality, Fraternity” to vote. In conceding defeat in the first round, Mélenchon said his supporters “must not give Madame Le Pen a single vote” – repeating the exhortation four times.

But he refrained from asking his voters to roll their votes over Macron, instead leaving them to wrestle alone with what Melenchon described as a choice between “two evils”.

Some will deliberately mess up their ballots, even putting toilet paper in the ballot envelope instead of a candidate’s name to show how well they see the options. Some will not vote. Some will vote without a name.

Among them, Emma Faroy, 22, in Paris.

“I’m going to vote because some women died for my right to vote,” she said. “But I’m going to vote blank because I don’t want to choose one or the other.”

Others will, almost literally, hold their noses and vote for Macron to keep Le Pen out. Some will support Le Pen, in a nudge to the president. Several polls indicate that Macron, who won the first round, is now building a significant lead in the second round, beyond the polls’ margin of error. Mélenchon’s first-round voters appear to be moving in greater numbers behind him than Le Pen. But the outcome remains uncertain because many have not yet chosen.

“I will decide at the last moment,” said retired electrical worker Pierre Gineste. Having voted Mélenchon in the first round, the second round is for him the dilemma of a ballot for Macron, white ballot or not. He said he wouldn’t vote for Le Pen.

The choice is so difficult and divisive that friendships and families are tested. Aïtzegagh voted for the Green Party candidate in the first round; his daughter chose Mélenchon. She then told her father that she might vote Le Pen in the second round because she cannot stand Macron. Aïtzegagh said he responded with a warning: “If you vote for Le Pen, I will repudiate you.”

In 2002, when Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie stunned France by advancing to the second round, Aïtzegagh was among the 82% of voters who rallied behind conservative Jacques Chirac, in a powerful rejection of the far right.

In 2017, Aïtzegagh voted for Macron in the second round – again only to be a barrage against a Le Pen, this time Marine. Macron won hands down – 66% to 34% – but knowing that many of her votes were just ballots against her. It will be the same on Sunday.

In a first for him and with “sadness and disgust”, Aïtzegagh will abstain, because Macron’s first term was “five years of cholera, five years of shit, five years of destruction” and Le Pen is not a option for him.

“I don’t want to be a roadblock anymore,” he said. “I had enough.”

Desentredeux, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun they, agonized over their choice for a long time – then decided that Le Pen’s presence again in the second round left them with no choice.

This is the first presidential election in which Desentredeux has been of voting age and it will end with a reluctant vote for Macron.

“Winning Macron would be a disaster, but passing Le Pen would be criminal,” Desentredeux said. “I don’t want to do it but I feel compelled.”

Associated Press reporter Alex Turnbull contributed.

Follow AP’s coverage of the French elections at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022

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