sexta-feira, 11 de dezembro de 2015
'Anything but Le Pen': French turn to tactical voting to stop far right / Guardian
'Anything but Le Pen': French turn to tactical voting to stop far right
After big gains by the Front National in regional elections, leftwing voters in some areas are being asked to vote for the rightwing Les Républicains party
Angelique Chrisafis in Calais
Friday 11 December 2015 14.56 GMT
Amid the run-down tower blocks on the Beau-Marais housing estate in Calais, Suzanne, 78, a retired cleaner and lifelong leftwinger, was feeling, as she put it, “down and a bit desperate”.
When the far-right Front National made a historic breakthrough in the first round of French regional elections last weekend, the port of Calais was one of its greatest success stories. Marine Le Pen, fighting to win control of the vast northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, ran a campaign warning of the dangers of the migrant question in Calais where about 4,500 refugees and migrants hoping to stow away to England are forced to sleep rough in a fetid, state-sanctioned shanty town called “the new jungle”.
After calling Calais a “martyr town” that was “under siege” from migrants, and warning that locals now felt like foreigners in their own land, Le Pen won a remarkable 49% of the vote in Calais, nine points higher than her average across the region. On the Beau-Marais estate, which was once a communist stronghold, one polling station saw Le Pen take 70% of the vote.
Now in a desperate bid to stop Le Pen winning this weekend, the Socialist party has pulled out of the race in the north, leaving only Nicolas Sarkozy’s rightwing former employment minister, Xavier Bertrand, facing the far-right Front National. Leftwing voters in what was once a leftwing heartland, now face what many call a grim choice “between the plague or cholera”. They either follow the Socialist party’s extraordinary plea to vote for Bertrand to stop Le Pen, or they risk a Le Pen victory if they don’t vote at all. Several polls show that, with the left behind him, Bertrand could easily win this weekend.
“I don’t know what to do,” Suzanne said. “I’ve voted communist all my life. The migrants don’t bother me – they’re always very polite and say hello. I really don’t want to vote for Sarkozy’s party, but we’ve got to do everything we can to keep out Le Pen. Poverty and unemployment is the real issue behind Le Pen’s rise here. People voted for her because she said she’ll get rid of all the migrants, but she has admitted herself she can’t do that. It’s all just blah blah blah.”
Claudine Venderlindum, 48, said: “Oh God, anything but Le Pen. For people on benefits like me, life would only get harder if she got in.”
The Beau-Marais, which has about 15,000 residents, is one of the poorest estates in one of the poorest départements in France. Calais has 15% unemployment, well above the national average of 11%, but in Beau-Marais some tower blocks have a rate nearer 40%. More than half the residents in Beau-Marais are under 25, there is a high number of teenage mothers, a large school drop-out rate and a widespread lack of qualifications. Like the rest of the region, health is far worse here than the rest of France. The estate is overwhelmingly white with few families that have immigrant roots.
“I think it’s the social misery rather than the migrant issue that really pushed people here towards the far-right,” said Mustapha Samlali, a youth worker on the estate. “There’s a sense of despair.”
Bernard, a Front National supporter, was finishing his cigarette before going into a discount clothing store nearby. “I’m 52 and I’m unemployed, round here that means I’m finished, no chance of a job, my life is over,” he said. “I depend on benefits, I’ve got €80 left over for food each month. We’ve had the left in power in France, we’ve had the right, but our lives just got worse each time. Now it’s time to try something different: Marine Le Pen. I hope she can sort out the unemployment and she’s promised to get rid of the migrants in Calais. I’m not racist, but we’re worried about our security, hygiene and disease.”
Evelyne, 63, a retired care worker walking her dog, said: “I voted Le Pen because she promised to deal with the migrants. The town can’t cope, they’ve got to go. And the Paris terrorist attacks were shocking. We need security and political change.”
Under pressure this week, Le Pen ramped up her promises to reduce the number of migrants in Calais. She promised to sue the government over the presence of migrants in the town, vowing to kick up such a fuss about Calais that: “I will ruin the government’s life. Every day of the week, every minute of the day, they will hear from me.”
She also promised to cut regional subsidies to the many local charities helping to feed and clothe migrants in Calais, saying the charity work was attracting migrants. One local migrant aid association responded that only a tiny fraction of funding came from the region, most was from donations, and warned against “stirring up hatred against refugees from war zones”.
Le Pen conceded this week that the migrant issue could only be dealt with at a national level. Her regional campaign is the springboard for her presidential ambitions for 2017, when she is predicted to knock out a mainstream candidate and easily make it to the final runoff.
In other northern coastal towns where migrants are sleeping rough, hoping eventually to reach England, Le Pen also increased her vote. In Grande-Synthe, a town near Dunkirk where hundreds of migrants are camped in dire conditions, the far-right topped the poll last weekend with 43%.
Francis Gest, a former maths teacher on the Beau-Marais estate, joined leftwing politics during the uprisings of May 1968 and is a longtime Green party activist. He said: “The official position is to vote Xavier Bertrand to keep Le Pen out. But I admit it’s being done in pain. For many on the left, both represent the same things. There will be people who can’t bring themselves to vote Bertrand.”
Betrand, an ambitious figure in Sarkozy’s Les Républicains party, is allied to the rightwing mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, who Gest felt had taken “deeply stigmatising” measures against migrants such as preventing them from visiting the local pool or multimedia library. He said many on the left made a huge gesture by voting for the right’s Jacques Chirac in the 2002 presidential election to keep out the far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen, who made it to the final round. “But some of those people are now saying, we voted Chirac and what did we get out of it? Nothing in return in terms of promises on the environment or policy for example.”
Elisabeth, 48, who has heart problems and is struggling to make ends meet as she supports a mother with Alzheimer’s disease, is one of the large percentage of abstaining voters across France who could now swing the vote. “I didn’t vote last Sunday, I don’t trust politicians,” she said. “Even when you try to pull yourself out of poverty, it’s so difficult, you just get pulled down again. But I might vote now to stop Le Pen. I don’t believe in hatred against migrants. They have to go somewhere, there’s a war on. Think of the migrant children outside sleeping rough, it breaks my heart.”
France votes on Sunday in the final round of regional elections, after the far-right Front National’s historic breakthrough in the first round. The anti-immigration, anti-European party topped the poll with 27.7% overall and came top in six out of 13 regions.
But the FN is facing a difficult battle to convert its first-round success into solid wins after the ruling Socialist party withdrew its candidates from two regions and urged its leftwing supporters there to back Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains to stop the far right.
In Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, polls show Marine Le Pen losing to Sarkozy’s party after the left pulled out, likewise for her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen in Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur.
The second round remains hard to predict. The Front National, which has never taken power in a region in France, had hoped to win up to three regions.
In Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine in the east, where the Front National topped the poll, the Socialist candidate refused his party’s call to step down, making the outcome of the three-way vote uncertain. One poll showed Sarkozy’s party would narrowly beat the FN candidate, Florian Philippot, but the difference between the two was within the margin of error.