Parisians aghast over 'darkness' of Le Pen candidacy

Daphné BENOIT
Marine Le Pen is much less popular in Paris than many other parts of the country

On the side of a building in Montorgueil, a trendy pedestrian area in central Paris, a line of graffiti reads: "It's dark in the country of the Enlightenment."

It is a clear reference to the rise of Marine Le Pen, France's far-right presidential candidate who managed less than five percent of the Parisian vote in the first round of the election a fortnight ago.

The fact that the anti-EU, anti-immigration Le Pen reached Sunday's run-off vote by scoring 21.3 percent nationwide has been met with a mixture of dismay, shame and disgust by many Parisians.

Her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron, tipped to become France's youngest ever president at age 39, took nearly 35 percent of the vote in Paris, compared with 24 percent nationally.

Montorgueil resident Gerard Siad, 52, said seeing Le Pen in the final, with polls showing her winning some 40 percent of the vote on Sunday, was like "being in a bad dream".

"It shows there's been a very worrying dumbing down in France like we have seen in the United States," said Siad, who heads an association of businesses run by gay men and women.

In the Montmartre district overlooking the low-rise capital, Alexandra Marchand, 25, took in the spring sunshine at a sidewalk cafe in a street lined with chic boutiques, foodie groceries and organic restaurants.

"I'm ashamed of my country," Marchand, a restaurant manager, said of the rise of Le Pen's National Front (FN), which she called "the party of morons who vote without understanding. It appeals to people in the sticks."

The remark matches the reputation of Parisians for snootiness towards the rest of the country, captured in their dismissal of anywhere outside the capital as "the provinces".

- 'Dangers of populism' -

In an election that has cast a harsh light on the divide between globalisation's winners and losers, Paris is largely in the winners' column as a city top-heavy with white-collar workers.

The demographics of the city of 2.2 million make it a much better match for Macron, a pro-European, economic liberal.

The former investment banker appeals to urban youth, the middle class and business leaders, while Le Pen's populist opposition to the "system", as well as her nationalist positions, attracts working-class people, especially in rural areas with high unemployment.

"What's different about Paris is that a lot of people are wise enough to realise the dangers of populism, which thrives on crisis situations," said Siad, referring to both the financial crisis and the terror attacks that have claimed more than 230 lives in France since early 2015.

He said he plans to vote for Macron "in the name of reason".

Many Parisians, including Siad, will be switching their vote to Macron from losing candidates to the right and left of the former economy minister.

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon came in second in Paris with 26 percent, with his support concentrated in the affluent western parts of the capital.

Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon won 20 percent, mainly from predominantly working-class pockets in the eastern half of the city.

Zoe Tellier, a 39-year-old actor wearing a long coat and gypsy skirt, said she was "disgusted" to see the FN candidate in the run-off.

"Things are not going well in France. People are afraid because of the attacks," she said.

"If Le Pen wins, my bags are ready, I'm moving to Barcelona."

Airline employee Anne Taburet, 55, an elegant, self-described "centrist environmentalist", says she "cannot imagine how Marine Le Pen could come to power.

"We're a great country, after all."

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