France chooses: hate or inclusion

2017-05-07 06:01
Mild-mannered: Emmanuel Macron (Getty images)

Mild-mannered: Emmanuel Macron (Getty images)

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Johannesburg - French voters are set to go to the polls on Sunday in one of the country’s most fiercely contested presidential elections to date, with many fearing an outcome favouring far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

South African ambassador to France Rapu Molekane said a win by this Eurosceptic would create uncertainty in diplomatic relations, whereas with centrist Emmanuel Macron as president, business would continue as usual.

Le Pen only has a slim chance as polls predict Macron will sweep to power with close to 60% of the vote. The margin between them is, however, smaller than some pollsters originally predicted.

Legislative elections

“If Macron comes in, there will not be much change, and we will not be that worried, but if it is Le Pen, then we have to be a little worried because we don’t know how much change there will be [in policy], and what her attitude towards Africa and South Africa will be,” Molekane told City Press.

South Africa and France recently set up a high-level forum for political dialogue to smooth the sometimes strained relations between the countries. South Africa often accuses France of too much postcolonial meddling in African affairs. A victory by Le Pen could put an end to this forum, but if Macron wins, it is expected to meet again in June after France’s legislative elections.

Le Pen’s presidency could see France withdraw from the EU in a move similar to the UK’s Brexit, something that could affect trade relations with France, South Africa’s ninth-largest importer.

Molekane said he had met with nine of the parties behind the country’s 11 presidential candidates, including Le Pen’s National Front, before the candidates were reduced to two in the country’s first round of polling on April 23.

He said this meeting did not shed much light on what Le Pen’s foreign policy could be in relation to Africa and South Africa, with even France’s foreign ministry in the dark.

Police officers

French-African voters and refugees, however, said it was impossible to even contemplate a win by Le Pen.

Abdel, a Sudanese asylum seeker in his 20s who took part in a May Day march on Monday against Le Pen, said she could not win. “Jamais! [Never!]” he exclaimed when asked about it.

Abdel, like many other African migrants, has been stuck in France for months after his attempts to cross the English Channel to the UK were blocked.

Wearing a sticker on his chest saying #LePenNon, he lingered with a number of other protesters under heavy police watch on the large traffic circle in Place de la Nation, where the march ended.

Although the thousands of protesters were largely peaceful, the march was invaded by about 150 masked protesters from an anarchist group called Black Bloc. They hurled Molotov cocktails, injured some police officers and set cars alight.

One of the marchers, who also attended the march 15 years ago against Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, when he was in the presidential race, remarked that a less enthusiastic attendance this year could point to a strong performance for Le Pen at the polls. The left is divided about Macron, a former investment banker, whom they see as too economically liberal.

Those opposed to Le Pen have, however, expressed it energetically, with some of her heavily policed rallies being marked by community and radical feminist protests. Her posters were also the most heavily defaced of the lot, with vandals tearing them or drawing devil’s horns and swastikas on them.

Some fear that violent protests could become a feature of her presidency.

Predicted misery

Just a few metro stops from Place de la Nation, at La Vilette, where Macron had a rally, his African-French supporters said it worried them that Le Pen could draw so much support in the first place.

At the 12 000-strong rally, Macron called for unity against the “candidate of hate”.

Jude, a 32-year-old who works for a logistics company, said people felt like the system had failed them because there weren’t enough jobs going around. “Neither the right or the left has been able to give people what they want,” he said.

Macron, as a centrist, was the only one who could do this, he said.

His boss, 52-year-old Dieng, said he could not even think of a Le Pen presidency.

“I can’t imagine it,” he laughed. “If we don’t give Macron a chance, people would think that the only solution is Marine Le Pen.”

He predicted only misery with her as president.

Le Pen does, however, have some black support. A black campaigner working for her told BBC Radio last month that it was about nationality and not race, and the patriotism Le Pen was advocating was “an attachment to the nation”.

Structural racism in France is, however, still prevalent, with unemployment among French citizens of African origin higher than among their white counterparts.

The outcome of the election is expected to be announced later on Sunday evening.

Court action

A prosecutor in Paris opened a preliminary investigation after Macron filed a complaint against Le Pen following her claim during a televised debate that he may have an offshore account in the Bahamas.

Le Pen made the allegation during the final presidential debate ahead of Sunday's election.

“Following the complaint filed by Emmanuel Macron, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation into propagation of rumours with the purpose of surprising or misleading voters, forgery, use of forged documents and concealment of forged documents.

“It is being handled by the financial crime department,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Read more on:    emmanuel macron  |  marine le pen  |  france  |  elections

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