SAINT-DENIS, France – Emmanuel Macron is courting disgruntled left-wing voters, warning them not to vote in Sunday’s presidential election by clarifying what a victory for his far-right rival Marine Le Pen would mean for France’s Muslim community.
The presidential candidate visited Saint-Denis, a multicultural municipality in the northern suburbs of Paris on Thursday, in a final attempt to win support from a diverse and working-class community that strongly supported veteran left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round of elections on April 10. .
When right-wing extremist candidates Eric Zemmour and Le Pen stigmatized France’s Muslims, Mélenchon emerged as their defender, condemning a widespread “anti-Muslim sentiment” in the country. Ahead of Sunday’s re-election, many of Mélenchon’s supporters are hesitant to stay home, cast a blank ballot or vote for Macron.
When he met local groups in the town square, Macron tried to warn of the consequences of Le Pen reaching the Elysée.
After promising to do more for disadvantaged neighborhoods, he criticized Le Pen’s proposal to reserve social housing for French people, accusing his opponent of wanting to exclude foreign nationals from social housing.
As an example, he said, “a young Moroccan lady who has two children working in the hospital who was petted every night during the pandemic … with Madame Le Pen’s program, we will take away her social housing and her family benefits.”
“It is a program of disagreement,” Macron told reporters, accusing Le Pen of “mixing terrorism, insecurity, immigration, Islam and Islamism all the time.”
This week, Le Pen stressed that she did not plan to deport foreign nationals as her proposal would not apply retroactively.
The president received a mixed reception, with some groups singing anti-Macron chants – borrowed from the Yellow Jackets movement – and others cheering on him.
In the first round of the presidential election, Mélenchon won in the Seine-Saint-Denis constituency with 49 percent of the vote, and particularly strong support from Muslim voters. In the city of Saint-Denis itself, he won more than 60 percent.
Keeping Seine-Saint-Denis voters away from Le Pen should not be so difficult, as the multicultural society is the worst audience for Le Pen’s divisive proposals on immigration and on banning the Muslim headscarf.
But convincing these voters to support Macron will be a more difficult task.
Seine-Saint Denis recorded the highest failure rate among all French departments in the first round. The department’s socialist president and more than a dozen mayors this week called on voters to support Macron on Sunday. “If Marine Le Pen were to win catastrophically, the first victims would be here,” warned Mathieu Hanotin, the socialist mayor of Saint-Denis, who accompanied Macron on his trip.
Mélenchon has told his constituents not to vote for Le Pen, but has not explicitly urged them to support Macron.
With Mélenchon now out of the race, Macron is doing what he can to get those votes, seizing Le Pen’s proposal to ban the Muslim headscarf in public as a chance to distance himself from his rival and appear closer to French Muslims.
During Wednesday’s televised election debate, Macron criticized the idea of banning the hijab in public and warned Le Pen that it could “lead to civil war.” In his speech in Saint-Denis, he reiterated that no other country in the world has such a ban.
“On the scarf, what you [Le Pen] proposing is a betrayal of French values, of the republic, ”he said.
It marks a subtle change from earlier at times ambiguous comments about the headscarf from Macron and his ministers. Although he has consistently been opposed to banning hijab in public, in 2018 he suggested that it was not entirely in line with French standards for gender equality.
While some Saint-Denis voters will rally to Macron’s side, others are still faltering.
A teacher who did not want to be named said that warning of a Le Pen presidency “is not a good argument” for voting Macron. The president’s “left turn is not sincere and comes too late,” he said, adding he would stay home on Sunday after voting for Mélenchon in the first round.
Khadijah, a 62-year-old Algerian retiree wearing a headscarf who also voted for Mélenchon, said Le Pen’s headscarf ban “would trigger a war here” and she would vote for Macron.
“He will win, Inshallah,” she said.