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French alliance seeks to counter voter apathy, turn a Paris suburb leftward

By Layli Foroudi and Manuel Ausloos

LE PLESSIS-TREVISE, France (Reuters) – In a racially mixed suburb of Paris, left-wing parliamentary candidate Adel Amara campaigned door-to-door one evening this week, saying he worries for France’s minority communities if Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) wins the coming election.

Amara, an opposition municipal councillor in the town of Villiers-sur-Marne and long-time community activist who is of Algerian heritage, is keen to mobilise those who stayed at home in past elections and turn his district, the 4th Val-de-Marne constituency, leftward.

Fewer than half of all registered voters cast a ballot in the 2022 parliamentary election nationally.

With the RN leading in opinion polls ahead of the vote, which takes place over two rounds on June 30 and July 7, members of minority communities in urban areas interviewed in recent days told Reuters they felt an RN victory could lead to a rise in racism.

A victory for the far right would impact “non-French people, and French people of Muslim faith, of colour, and the police will feel they’re given immunity,” Amara said.

The RN denies it is racist but proposes policies that it says prioritise French nationals. It wants to limit access to health and welfare benefits for foreigners, to restrict citizenship and to ban the wearing of the hijab, an Islamic head covering, by women in public.

The RN’s candidate for prime minister, Jordan Bardella, said last week that “our compatriots of foreign nationality or origin who work, pay their taxes, respect the law, and love our country have nothing to fear”.

Tackling traditionally high abstention rates is central for the Popular Front, a leftist alliance formed of the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI), the centre-left Socialist Party, the Greens and the Communist Party. The group is polling in second place.

Officials from LFI say they are especially targetting constituencies such as that are currently held by President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling centrist alliance, which opinion polls suggest may lose as many as half its seats in this election. Such constituencies include the 4th Val-de-Marne.

In this constituency, where there are pockets of well-off residents as well as working-class estates and immigrant communities, the right has historically won high scores.

In the European Parliament elections last month that prompted Macron to call a snap election, the RN came top in the area with 25% – lower than its national score but high for the Paris region.

The RN candidate for the 4th Val-de-Marne, Alain Philippet, is an opposition municipal councillor in Le Plessis-Trevise, a town neighbouring Villiers-sur-Marne.

GETTING THE YOUNG TO VOTE

In the small working-class estate of Cite de la Joie (Joy Estate) in Le Plessis-Trevise, where 36-year-old Amara was campaigning this week, only 497 people (43% of eligible voters) cast a ballot in 2022.

Voter participation rates in urban working-class suburbs are low due to a young demographic – the elderly vote more than youth – and socio-economic factors like poverty and education levels, said Celine Braconnier, director of Sciences-Po Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

While there is a long tradition of community organising, abstention is high in these areas because “these populations are mistreated by the political class, so they don’t have much reason to trust (it),” said sociologist Ulysse Rabate, who studies political life in urban estates.

Social worker Celia Ngala, talking in Villiers-sur-Marne’s high street, said this would be the first parliamentary election she will have voted in, adding she was spurred by worries about the far right.

“I have young daughters and I don’t want to leave them in a world where they are going to be stigmatised because of the colour of their skin or because they have an immigrant background,” said Ngala, 35, who is of Congolese-Algerian heritage, adding she planned to vote for the left-wing coalition.

Cite de la Joie resident Abderrahim Miri, a 24-year-old student of Moroccan origin, said he was worried for his mother, who does not have French nationality and who he said was already subject to racism in the street because she wears a veil.

The RN in power would “encourage excesses, people who hid before won’t hide anymore,” he said.

The LFI put forward activists from diverse working-class backgrounds as new candidates for the leftist alliance, such as Amara and Amal Bentounsi, an activist against police violence, among others.

“It’s important for democratic reasons, and also because we need candidates who will speak about racial inequalities,” said Omar Slaouti, a teacher and activist with the “Estates Assembly” collective. “They won’t betray us because they come from the grassroots.”

Lorianne Diop, a 22-year-old cashier from Villiers-sur-Marne, was not ready to be persuaded by politicians of any stripe. She said she doesn’t see the point in voting, and between work and looking after her baby, she doesn’t have the time.

“All politicians are liars, they say one thing and then do another,” she said.

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