Terror attack affects votes

2017-04-23 06:00
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is blocked after a shooting in which two police officers were killed in a terror attack in Paris, France, on Thursday. PHOTO: EPA / ETIENNE LAURENT

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is blocked after a shooting in which two police officers were killed in a terror attack in Paris, France, on Thursday. PHOTO: EPA / ETIENNE LAURENT

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On a pavement next to the busy Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, a few hundred metres from the Arc de Triomphe, a small banner and a few bunches of flowers mark the spot where the driver of a police van was shot on Thursday night.

The handmade banner reads: “DE TOUT COEUR AVEC LA POLICE. VIVE LA FRANCE” (Wholeheartedly with the police. Long live France.) A small French flag punctuates the slogan.

“People were punching [criticising] the police before, now they are on the police’s side,” a bystander remarked.

Ever since the state of emergency was declared by President François Hollande in 2015 and extended several times, police have had sweeping powers. Fifty-thousand police officers and 7 000 soldiers have been patrolling France’s streets every day since, and today, they will be tasked with ensuring security at more than 60 000 polling stations. Just three weeks ago, hundreds of people of Chinese descent ­protested after a police officer shot one of their own, mistaking the scissors he carried to descale fish for a weapon.

For now, at least, the police have the public’s sympathy. Candidates for presidential elections even cancelled their final rallies on Friday.

Yesterday, no ­campaigning was allowed because of safety concerns, but also out of respect.

As life resumed yesterday and sidewalk cafés were packed with people enjoying some spring sunshine, tourists and locals stopped curiously at the shooting site where several television broadcast vans still kept watch, to take pictures or to show solidarity. At least for the day, supporters of the different candidates were united by this shooting.

Although French politics is notoriously difficult to predict, immediate speculation was that the attack, carried out by a French-born Islamic State sympathiser, could mean a boost for hard-right, extremist National Front leader Marine Le Pen in today’s elections. Polls this week suggested she was likely to face a run-off in the second round of elections with independent centrist Emmanuel Macron. Polls suggest Macron was most likely to win the second round to become president, but polls proved unreliable in last year’s surprise Brexit referendum and the US presidential elections.

Luc Raynaldy, 60, an Algerian-born retired pharmaceutical factory worker, who has lived in Paris for 50 years, said he preferred Le Pen “not only because she is a woman, but she is patriotic and doesn’t have a problem with money and finances”, referring to right wing Republican candidate François Fillon, who is under investigation for allegedly giving fake government jobs to his family.

“We don’t realise politicians are corrupt. We look at Columbia, Nigeria, but they are not the only places where there is corruption. There is also corruption here.”

Raynaldy said France’s economy was too fragile to help immigrants and it needed to improve its security and economy first.

“The killing of police was horrible, and it made me think Le Pen is the right person,” he said.

Others, however, say right wing supporters could forgive Fillon his sins, which are insignificant compared with the shooting incident.

Joseph, 37, who works for a publisher, said his choice was between Fillon and Macron. “I was scared to come here with my yarmulke,” he said, touching the hoodie on his head, just in case. “These guys will kill Jewish people. They want to kill Jews because of what happened in Israel, but I’m not Israeli and they are not Palestinian.”

The first terrorist attack in Paris, which saw 12 staffers at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo killed in January 2015, was followed by a shooting that killed four in a kosher supermarket.

Referring to Le Pen and left wing Jean-Luc Melénchon, Joseph said: “Two extremes are dangerous, so I will vote for Macron or Fillon.”

Extreme leftists could, in turn, also be driven to the centre, like Omar Elyes, a fortysomething teacher, who said after what happened he decided to vote for Macron.

“Macron will win, French people are not idiots, they are intelligent,” he said.

Two young jobseekers, French-born Kevin and Congolese-born Richard, differed over who would be the best president.

Kevin believed Macron was “the least worst option”, and that terrorism wouldn’t affect his vote because “things like this will always happen”.

“Le Pen could become president if French residents have enough anger towards strangers,” said Richard. “I don’t think there is that much hate in this country. You can see all of us here coming to show our love to the victims. It can’t be that bad if people are coming here to show love to everyone.
“There is hope. There is always hope."

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