“Good afternoon, we come for the elections, it is for Jean-Luc Mélenchon”. Thomas Portes, candidate of the new unitary alliance of the left, repeats the same phrase in each house, aware of being in favorable territory. It was Thursday, June 9, and this Mélenchonist leader was distributing electoral propaganda in a block of flats in a modest neighborhood of Neuilly-sur-Marne, on the eastern outskirts of Paris. At the gates of the first round of the legislative elections, this Sunday in France, the inhabitants of this town in the ‘banlieue’ were divided between those who face these elections with indifference and the unconditional supporters of the rebellious Jean-Luc Mélenchonthe new strong man of the left.
“You can count on me for Sunday,” replies a young French woman with African roots after receiving a brochure. “But weren’t the elections already over?” Asks a teenager on another floor who, like several of his neighbors, believes that the electoral cycle ended with the presidential elections at the end of April.
Since the electoral calendar in France was modified in 2000 so that the election of the president coincided with that of the deputies, the winner in the presidential elections was imposed almost automatically in the legislative ones, considered a second-rank vote. These parliamentary elections are characterized by dividing the French territory into 577 constituencies (number of seats) and only the most voted representative in each of them is elected, an electoral system conducive to the presidential party.
However, this trend has been altered this year with the composition of the New Popular Union, made up of France Insumisa (related to Podemos in France), the Socialist Party, the Greens and the Communists. According to the latest polls, President Emmanuel Macron’s coalition could be left without an absolute majority in the National Assembly. Nor can an upset with a victory for the left be totally ruled out.
Recover the historic red belts
One of the territories in which the new progressive alliance could take more deputies from Macron is working-class neighborhoods and cities, with a high percentage of the population of immigrant origin, also known as the ‘banlieue’. “We believe that we can achieve the 12 deputies of the Seine-Saint-Denis (northeast of Paris), where Mélenchon got 49% of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections,” Portes points out about the second poorest department in France and often stigmatized by the far right for his character multicultural and its problems of insecurity. In fact, the president made one of his last trips there before the first round of the legislative elections.
In addition to Seine-Saint-Denis, the leaders of the New Popular Union aspire to dye a large part of the peripheral constituencies of Parisas well as other large cities, such as Marseille, Lyon or Lille. They want to recover the historic red belts, those working-class territories that were fiefdoms of the socialists and the communists, but whose identity was diluted with deindustrialization and the multiplicity of identities with the rise of individualism and multiculturalism. For example, in the 2017 legislative elections, the left won seven deputies in Seine-Saint-Denis, but Macron’s party won three and the Republican right, two.
“Five years ago people thought that Macron was neither right nor left, but they quickly realized that he was someone conservative when he decided to cut rent subsidies,” explains Fatiha Keloua-Hachi, a socialist candidate in this department. “The inhabitants of Neuilly-sur-Marne are exhausted, in the food distribution centers there are at least 2,000 people registered every Saturday,” says Portes, who is facing the outgoing deputy Patrice Anato, from the president’s party. With 28% of the population below the poverty line, the inhabitants of Seine-Saint-Denis are very sensitive to the loss of purchasing power due to inflation, the main theme of the campaign.
“He knows how to speak to young people of migrant origin”
“Normally, I don’t used to vote in the legislative elections, but this time I will do it for a Mélenchon candidate,” says Kamel, 55, an electrician of Algerian origin. This inhabitant of Neuilly sur Marne claims to share “100%” some of the proposals of the left, such as blocking the prices of basic necessities or increase the minimum wage to 1,500 euros.
The rebellious leader “knows how to speak to young people of immigrant origin like me. But I am afraid that if he wins the elections, he will not fulfill half of the things he promises,” says Mohamed, 35, a car salesman listening to music and arguing with a group of friends outside a train station in proximity, in the neighboring town of Gagny. His speech reflects a distrust of the political class that is very common among the inhabitants of Seine-Saint-Deniswhere participation was around 30% in the 2017 legislative elections.
With the denunciation of police violence and the vehement defense of French Muslims against attacks from the extreme right, Mélenchon won the sympathy of the inhabitants of the “banlieue”. Until 69% of Muslim voters they supported him in the first round of the presidential elections, according to an Ifop poll.
However, the New People’s Union has been criticized for little presence of candidates of foreign origin in Seine-Saint-Denis —only 4 out of 12—, in addition to the hand-picked appointment of applicants with little local presence, such as Gabriel Amard, Mélenchon’s son-in-law, in the “banlieue” of Lyon. “There is an obvious paradox between a clearly anti-racist discourse and the candidates’ profile that does not correspond to that of the local population. There is a problem of representation in this sense”, criticizes Cécile Gintrac, a geographer and an activist involved in the associative life of that area.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.