French feminists march against far right days before vote

Published June 24, 2024
Paris: Activists of the far-left opposition party France Unbowed (LFI) attend a demonstration organised by feminist organisations on Sunday to protest against the far-right National Rally party, ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.—Reuters
Paris: Activists of the far-left opposition party France Unbowed (LFI) attend a demonstration organised by feminist organisations on Sunday to protest against the far-right National Rally party, ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.—Reuters

PARIS: On Sunday, thousands of people took to the streets in France, for feminist-led demonstrations against the ‘far right’. The ‘far right’ is being tapped to emerge triumphant in the snap elections, scheduled for the 30 of June. The protests occurred as parties attempt to shore up support, with ‘days to go’ until the polls.

With the far-right ‘National Rally’ (RN) polling at around 35 percent, “we have to remind people that they’re the ones who talked about ‘comfort abortions’, who are always attacking family planning services,” said Morgane Legras, who is a nuclear engineer and feminist activist taking part in the ‘thousands-strong march’, in Paris.

Protesters wearing violet marched from the Place de la Republique square in central Paris to Place de la Nation in the east, bearing signs with messages such as “Push back the far right, not our rights”. Other rallies took place in around 50 other cities, such as Toulouse.

France’s two-round election system makes it difficult to predict which party could ultimately claim a majority in the lower house of parliament, handing them the prime minister’s post which is second in power to President Emmanuel Macron. Since Macron dissolved parliament after a European Parliament election battering, his centrists are badly lagging the RN as well as a reforged left-wing alliance called the New Popular Front (NFP), in recent surveys focused on ascertaining voting intentions.

The RN has garnered unprecedented levels of support after a decades-long “de-demonisation” push to distance its image from its roots, including a co-founder who was a member of the ‘Nazi Waffen-SS paramilitary’. However, the core of its message remains hostility to immigration, Islam and the European Union.

Senior RN lawmaker, Sebastien Chenu, gestured towards Muslim and Jewish voters (on Sunday) by vowing not to ban the ritual slaughter of livestock to produce halal or kosher meat.

“Everyone will be able to keep eating kosher meat if they want,” Chenu told Jewish broadcaster ‘Radio J’. He added that a historic far-right policy of barring the kippa in public spaces, in the footsteps of an existing law forbidding the full-body burka worn by some Muslim women, was ‘not at the top of the RN’s agenda’, saying its priority was to fight “the Islamist threat”.

‘Do better’

Within President Macron’s camp, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal acknowledged that the European Parliament results, where they secured 14 percent of the vote, was “a message to us that we have to do better with our methods, with our governance” of the country.

If his party defies the odds to come out on top in the legislative polls, he vowed “change”, including a turn to “seeking out coalitions with the French public, with civil society” in an interview with broadcaster ‘RTL’.

Macron’s alliance would open up to “all who want to come, from the conservative right to the social-democratic left”, Macron’s former prime minister, Edouard Philippe told broadcaster ‘France 3’.

Attal went on to hammer the centrists’ mantra about the threats from “extremes” on the left and right, saying both promised a “tax bludgeoning, a shredder for the middle classes”.

The RN especially is “not ready to govern, it’s a party of opposition, not a party of government”, Attal stated. In a sign of the disquiet abroad over Macron’s snap poll gamble, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told public broadcaster ‘ARD’ (on Sunday) that he was “concerned about the elections in France”, though “it’s up to the French people to decide”.

‘Shut up’

The left-wing ‘NFP alliance’ continued to show strains, after parties hastily re-knitted ties sundered over differing responses to the events of October 7 and the ongoing Israeli-led onslaught, on the Gaza Strip. Divisions are particularly stark over whether their candidate for prime minister should be Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of France Unbowed (LFI), which the largest party in the grouping. Certain members of the LFI have been accused of anti-Semitism.

Melenchon should “shut up”, former Socialist president Francois Hollande stated on Sunday, as “people reject him more strongly” than the RN’s leaders Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella.

“Do we want the left to win, or do we want to be stoking conflict?” he said. Melenchon had said on Saturday that he aimed “to govern the country”. “I will never give up the honour of being a target” for attacks, Melenchon told a rally in the southern city of Montpellier on Sunday.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2024

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