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The French abstention crisis

President Macron’s election was followed by voter fatigue. Credit: Pixabay

There is nothing I love more than a good ol’ election. Yes, we just had the General Election in the UK, but I’m referring to our neighbours on the other side of the Channel.

The French recently cast their votes for the legislative elections. French president Emmanuel Macron was elected nearly two months ago, but now was the parliament’s turn, where voters would choose members of the new government. This is interesting, very, very interesting! (Can you tell I’m interested?)

It is interesting because France has been hit with a very high abstention rate. Turnout was at a record low of 49% for the first round, and a mere 42% for the second – more than half the country didn’t bother to cast a vote the first time around. There were 925 seats up for grabs and political analysts weren’t entirely certain if President Macron could secure a majority – after all, his party, La Republique En Marche is brand new.

The question is: why the turnout so low? This is the question I feel that President Macron does not care about for many reasons (being the most popular choice is quite enjoyable). I like Macron. He is a people person, with great charisma as he shuffles the French political scene and creates a fresh legacy. President Macron won the majority, but at what cost?

Other candidates are raising concerns and rightly so, some could say. Marine Le Pen, leader of the National front, the right-wing party increasing ranks in a turbulent France, called the turnout “catastrophic”. Alain Juppé, mayor of Bordeaux, said “having a monochrome parliament is never good for democratic debate”.

One can and should ask, how does this reflect democracy? Democracy is the people’s choice, the word itself coming from Greek – ‘Demos’ meaning people and ‘Kratos’ meaning power or rule. Therefore, only half are being represented and accounted for – how can the state have a balanced impact when decisions are being made by the few?

Literacy and wealth affect a voter’s faith in the system. Credit: Pixabay

There is a number of reasons for the significantly low turnout in last month, here are some of my suggestions:

  1. Voter apathy – the classic reason people don’t want to vote. Many feel their vote won’t make a difference if there is a candidate likely to win. This is often the main reason for low turnout. Emmanuel Macron was portrayed as the likely choice, so many decided not to vote.
  2. Political alienation – this is when the person does care about the election or vote but feels left behind by the political system. They may want change but they don’t see a candidate believing in or supporting a specific cause deemed important by the electorate. I feel that this is one of the main reasons for low turnout within the parliamentary elections. Sources say that young people and workers stayed away in high numbers from the election. These two groups are very powerful and important to France’s society and economy, making a significant difference to the voting patterns throughout the country. The former socialist rulers of France drastically saw damage done to their party with a small percentage of votes vouching for them to represent and reform.
  3. Cultural factors – Factors such as wealth and literacy can be used to see why people vote or choose not to, but habits formed within the cultures take time. Trusting the government as well as having an interest in the political scene can transform the voter turnout. France has been shaken by the inhumane terror attacks on the nation and has left many unsure of the government.
  4. Voter Fatigue – If there are many elections or voting required, voters may become tired and less likely to vote. This can be quite relatable to the country, due to the presidential election being held in April and May and then the parliamentary elections were right after in June. That is a lot of voting and information being fed to the nation.

This list is not a complete guide on exactly why the turnout was low and there are various factors that I feel caused voter turnout to be so low within France. However, now that the parliament is fully underway and decided, it will be interesting to see how President Macron will bring the right and left together to reform the country. We can expect a lot of changes, influences from international allies, and hopefully, a prosperous France – vive la France!

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