French election: Minority youth voice frustrations ahead of vote

Ahead of the first round of presidential elections, French youth express their fears and frustrations about the candidates.

France's young voters with minority backgrounds
Al Jazeera spoke to five young French people from minority backgrounds [Linah Alsaafin/Al Jazeera]

Paris, France – A lack of enthusiasm is palpable for the upcoming presidential election in France. Posters featuring the candidates around the central area of the capital are graffitied over; others are torn from the walls as if their mere presence is a provocation.

The disinterest is partly due to a general sense that President Emmanuel Macron will secure a second term, and that this election race has not presented a new charismatic candidate.

While voter turnout for French elections is usually consistent, hovering around 80 percent or so, the country has ageing inhabitants, with the youth (18-29 years) making up 19 percent of the population.

Just over two-thirds of them voted in both rounds of the 2017 elections, and according to one poll, the same percentage have listed purchasing power as their main concern.

Al Jazeera spoke to five young French people from minority backgrounds and asked about their opinions on the upcoming election, which will hold its first round on April 10.

They expressed frustration at a lack of a political vision by the candidates, and said most of their concerns were not addressed at all.

Here is what they had to say:

Lauren Lolo, 24 years old

Co-founder of Cité des Chances, an organisation that promotes the civic engagement of young people from the suburbs and working-class neighbourhoods

Lauren Lolo, co-founder of Cite des Chance
Lauren Lolo, co-founder of Cite des Chances [Linah Alsaafin/Al Jazeera]

I think we haven’t addressed women’s rights and disability rights enough. They sometimes address racism, but never what caused it.

One word to describe this election is hopelessness. A lot of people think that we already know the outcome of the election. They don’t want to involve themselves, because they think even if they vote, it won’t change anything.

Macron has disrupted the whole political scene. Before, it was clear. There was the right and there was the left. Now? Chaos.

There are different parties that we don’t even know where they stand. We struggle to see any difference between some candidates, especially on the left wing. They’re running on their personality and not a programme or an agenda. It’s really sad. It benefits old men that have been doing politics for the longest time.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a thousand choices, so I’ll vote for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, as a useful vote. He’s leading the left wing in the polls but I don’t really like his personality. He’s old and he had a lot of scandals back in the day. He should give his place to someone else, as he has run for the presidency three times already.

When my organisation visited the “quartiers populaires” (working-class areas), we asked 250 young people what issues concern them the most. One thing that came up a lot was education, youth unemployment, having no prospects for the future. These are not really addressed by the candidates.

Mustapha Boina, 23 years old

Student of political sciences at Universite Paris Nanterre​

Mustapha Boina, student of political science at University or Nanterre [Linah Alsaafin/Al Jazeera]
Mustapha Boina, student of political science at Universite Paris Nanterre [Linah Alsaafin/Al Jazeera]

It’s the first time in my life that I’m in this position of not knowing what I’m going to do. That’s because there is no concrete programmes or visions either from the left or the right. We used to have programmes and agendas, a clear idea of what the candidates are running for.

Staying in the European Union is important to me. It’s the vision of the world, it’s how we’re connected to other countries in the region. It’s at the base of everything. We can’t have a president that is against Europe.

I can’t bear to see another five years of Macron, though. I wasn’t a Macron supporter in 2017. I thought he’d lead a centrist government, and at least unify French people behind them.

But Macron’s politics are clearly on the right wing. He has divided the country and the French people and created this whole environment that benefitted the rise of the far right. It’s very dangerous. If there’s an Eric Zemmour running for president today, it is thanks to Macron.

Marine Le Pen can win. For the first time, she can actually win and I’m really scared of it.

Nawal Sissi, 25 years old

Communications student in a work-study programme

Nawal Sissi, communications student
Nawal Sissi, communications student [Linah Alsaafin/Al Jazeera]

It’s chaotic. I have this feeling that we only see the same candidates, the same faces and that people don’t really have access to the information related to what the candidates are running for. I went through the different candidates’ propositions, and I had this feeling that nothing real was in there. We don’t really understand what is really happening.

At school, they never taught you to be interested in politics and how to understand it. I feel really lost. I don’t know where to start.

If I don’t vote for Mélenchon, then what are the other alternatives? If I vote for someone else, they’ll ban my headscarf. I don’t have any other options. But I don’t see myself what he stands for.

Everyone around me thinks Macron is going to win, so they don’t see the point in voting.

There’s something else that’s is important for me, which is the French identity. We shouldn’t have such a strict and fixed definition of the French identity. It should be about inclusivity and about highlighting this multicultural society.

Aïvy Rahman, 23 years old

International law graduate and an intern at the French Office for the Protection of Refugees (OFPRA)

Aïvy Rahman works at the Office for Refugees (OFPRA)
Aïvy Rahman works at the French Office for the Protection of Refugees (OFPRA)​ [Linah Alsaafin/Al Jazeera]

I’m pissed off. I’m super scared and I have the feeling that no one is taking this election seriously, especially the younger generation, which saddens me the most.

It’s a very messy election campaign. There are too many candidates on the left wing. On the one hand, I criticise the youth for not voting, but on the other hand, I understand why they don’t. Why would they be interested in such a chaotic campaign? All we hear is polemics after polemics … absurd sentences.

Poverty is my main concern. I’m from a low-income family. And when I hear Macron’s haunting propositions on the RSA, I want to cry.

[Revenu de solidarite active​, RSA, is a form of welfare benefits intended to guarantee a minimum level of income for unemployed people, or workers who have a very low income. Macron proposes limiting the payment of this minimum income to those who can work 15-20 hours a week.]

My parents receive RSA. They’re honestly struggling to find a job. They’ve been trying for years. When I hear these things, I want to cry. I feel like we are parasites for them. All we want is to be a part of this society.

I think Marine Le Pen is going to win. I’m sure of that. In 2017, we didn’t know Macron, and we voted for him to protect ourselves from Le Pen. But this time, we know Macron and what he stands for pretty well. People don’t want to ally against Marine Le Pen, because they don’t see themselves voting for Macron. They’re disappointed, pissed off. Some won’t even vote.

Some people need to see Marine Le Pen at the head of the state to realise how bad things are. I’m really scared.

Maroan Abdel Meneaam, 21 years old

Law and history student at Sorbonne University 

Maroan Abdel Meneaam, law and history student [Linah Alsaafin/Al Jazeera]
Maroan Abdel Meneaam, law and history student [Linah Alsaafin/Al Jazeera]

The public debate is not interesting. All the social ideas and discussions are being dismissed.

It’s been stressful, but at the same time, there’s no easier choice this year for me than to vote for Mélenchon. Ever since [the presidency of Nicolas] Sarkozy, there has been only talks about austerity, the heavy cuts in public services, in schools, hospitals, everywhere. They make us feel guilty for wanting, simply, a functioning hospital, or public schools with trained teachers … basic rights.

At least Mélenchon is proposing something else than dying at 65 years old.

The whole Macron being a shield from Marine Le Pen is a scam. We’ve seen this before. He is an extremist as well. This is the same guy that is proposing the shakedown of public schools, Americanising the university system, and putting an end to the French idea of solidarity. He wants to destroy everything that is at the base of our socioeconomic system.

I care about education first and foremost, and then health and purchasing power. But not about the war in Ukraine. Only old people care about it.

Source: Al Jazeera