Presidential: Neither Macron nor Le Pen seduce Seine-Saint-Denis

by Layli Foroudi and LEA GUEDJ

BOBIGNY (Reuters) – At 39, boxing trainer Kab Thiam has voted only twice in his life: for Jacques Chirac in the second round of the 2002 presidential election after the surprise qualification of frontist Jean-Marie Le Pen and last Sunday for the candidate of rebellious France, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

The latter now eliminated, Kab Thiam does not intend to go to the polls on April 24 to decide between far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and outgoing President Emmanuel Macron.

“For me, Macron and Le Pen are the same thing, they share the same ideas,” said Kab Thiam after boxing training in the Mohamed Ali hall in Bobigny, Seine-Saint-Denis.

The voters of this department, the poorest in the country and where the immigrant population exceeds 30%, placed Jean-Luc Mélenchon well ahead in the first round last Sunday, the rebellious candidate having won 49.09% of the vote. In Bobigny, he even collected nearly 60% of the votes.

After the third place obtained by Jean-Luc Mélenchon at the national level, the votes of his voters are now fiercely coveted by the two finalists.

Five years ago, the candidate of the Republic in March had collected 79% of the votes in the second round in Seine-Saint-Denis, against 66% nationally.

But the mobilization of this electorate for the return match between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen is a “great uncertainty”, estimates Jean-Yves Dormagen, professor at the University of Montpellier.

“Emmanuel Macron is divided in these neighborhoods because he is seen as being on the right and in favor of the rich. Marine Le Pen is less frightening than her father. She has done everything to soften her speech on the subject of identity and therefore she is perceived as reasonable and less racist,” he said.

In the first round of the presidential election, the abstention rate was established in Seine-Saint-Denis at 30.22% of those registered on the electoral lists according to data from the Ministry of the Interior, against 26.31% at the level national.

An analysis of the results of the first round of the presidential election carried out by Reuters shows that Emmanuel Macron has struggled to obtain the support of the regions where a population is concentrated whose purchasing power is hardest hit by the rise in inflation..

For the time being, all the polls on voting intentions for the second round nevertheless give the head of state the winner.


Sami Mahdjoub, who takes his boxer son to Bobigny, remembers that as a child his parents mentioned the name of Jean-Marie Le Pen to persuade him to behave, otherwise he would be expelled from France.

Unlike his parents, this 38-year-old Franco-Algerian does not see the Le Pen name as a real threat.

“I don’t listen to what (Marine Le Pen) says, I look at what I have left in my pockets and with Macron, they are empty,” said Sami Mahdjoub.

“Will it be better with (Marine) Le Pen? I don’t know,” he added.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who called on his voters “not to give a single voice to Madame Le Pen”, without giving official support to the outgoing president, launched an online consultation for the second round for his voters to decide a clear line between voting for Emmanuel Macron, voting blank or null, or abstaining.

Sabine Rubin, an insubordinate French deputy in Seine-Saint-Denis, said she understood why voters might be reluctant to vote for Emmanuel Macron.

“They see public services disappearing, their own purchasing power falling (…) the abandonment of these neighborhoods is not new but now there is more contempt,” she said, quoting Emmanuel Macron who had declared in 2018 to a young unemployed person that it was enough to “cross the street” to find work.

But, for many, it is essential to block the far right.

Emma D’Angelo considered burning her voter card after the results of the first round. Since then, this resident of Bondy and voter of Jean-Luc Mélenchon has come to terms with the idea of ​​voting Emmanuel Macron.

“For the students, it’s like choosing between plague and cholera. We’re not going to expect anything from him. We’re going to vote for him because we have no choice, because there’s no way that Marine Le Pen passes,” said the 22-year-old, who is applying for several master’s degrees.

Carlos Tavares, another coach at the Mohamed Ali boxing gym, says he grew up fearing Le Pen and “skinheads”. He does not understand that some of his friends prefer to abstain rather than block the extreme right.

“Vote blank or abstain, but who are we playing into? Marine Le Pen. It’s absurd (…) it’s serious and it’s scary,” he said.

(Report by Layli Foroudi and Lea Guedj, French version Laetitia Volga, edited by Jean-Michel Bélot)

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