On Friday, Le Monde (Paris) reported on the responses of registered voters answering a request to explain why they chose not to vote.  --  The complete article is translated below.[1]  --  French abstention rates have risen steadily in recent years....



Le Monde (Paris)
December 11, 2015


Many, very many of you responded to our call to explain the reasons that led you to forego voting in the first round of regional elections on Sun., Dec. 6, or on some earlier occasion.  The mass of testimony has no statistical value, but it gives one the sense that this absence of expression at the ballot box needs to be justified, claimed, and, finally, expressed.  Apparently we are obliged to conclude that even those who choose not to participate in the choice of its representatives are passionate about French politics.

But we're aware that most of responses obtained only represent the expression of a portion of the non-voters, the ones who are the most politicized, those who have made of abstention a militant act, and not those who abstain from a lack of interest or a lack of information, or because they've failed to register properly.

With each election the question recurs, and then is usually drowned out by the results of the vote:  Why do voters abstain *en masse*?  In the first round of regional elections on Dec. 6, 50.1% of those registered did not vote. 


"I haven't voted for ten years because I think it serves no purpose," says François Bouchez, 54, outright.  This resident of Calvados [a département in Lower Normandy] has plenty of arguments to support his position:  he cites "the inaction of those who are elected, whatever their place in the great mille-feuille of the State," or the fact that "voting today allows people to be elected to belong to small movements (ecologists, communists...) who, if they ran on their own, would never be elected."

This feeling that voting is useless is widely shared among the abstentionists, who often refer to a foundational, traumatizing event: the 2005 referendum on the European constitutional treaty.  Despite a "No" vote of 54.7%, the essence of the text was ratified by Parliament in 2008.  "The "elected officials" of the nations made a mockery of my vote, and since that time I haven't voted in a single election," said François Le Bleis, 61. 

More generally, those who are registered but do not vote deplore empty promises and unfulfilled programs.  "I'm on the left, I voted for Hollande in the second round [in 2012].  I feel profoundly betrayed by his policies, which surrendered everything to MEDEF and the banks without a fight," said Isabelle d'Artagnan, 24, abstentionist since last March's departmental elections.

"François Hollande, who seemed authentic and sincere when he announced his struggle against the power of finance, has sickened me for good," said Zoé Callandreau, 54, who sees "no ethics, no vision in those who are governing," only "a lot of poorly done patchwork."


The right has hardly been spared:  in 2007, Fabien F., 36, voted for Nicolas Sarkozy because "I said to myself that he'd shake things up."  "We ended up," he said, "with 600 billion euros of debt . . . we saw him on a yacht with his Ray-Ban sunglasses, then Khadafi came and camped out on the lawn at the Élysée palace, and the Romani were stigmatized.  Except for the reform of the retirement system, he accomplished nothing."  In these conditions, despite the fact that he "no longer imagines he has any influence on officials," Jean-Pascal Renaud, 45, thinks that by abstaining he can "just say: 'Not in my name'" [in English in the original].

Olivier Siboni, 51, thinks that "the economy has won the culture war that controls our lives" at the expense of politics.  Also, "whatever you vote for, nothing will change, because the politicians no longer have the power to change French people's lives."


In any case, say a lot of abstentionists, officials don't act for the general good, or at least they don't do so any longer.  They only pursue their own interests or the interests of their party.  "To elect so-called representatives who for the most part have never worked in a company, who have a priviliged social and financial status, and who are only worried about their own careers as the play the role they're expected to play in TV and radio studios, I'm fed up with that," said Philippe Delpeyrat, 40.

For Sébastien R, 35 and committed to "coexistence," "not to vote any more is a torture."  But the young man is determined not to give up the abstentionist position he's maintained since 2013 because of "politicians who don't attend," "pensions for politicians who are defeated," and "the big parties that prevent smaller ones from influencing French political life because we don't have proportional voting." 


According to Jean-Dominique Refait, 54, elections have been "reduced to a choice of individuals who come from an oligarchy whom the people is asked to endorse out of respect for symbolic fictions."  "All the parties are stuck in the past, none of them are thinking of the future, they're obsessed with criticizing each other, with rejecting everything that's been done, when the truth is that there are good ideas everywhere," said David S., 34.  This resident of Tours also says that he felt "ashamed" watching "the first session of the National Assembly after the Nov. 13 attacks," when representatives on the right booed the government.  That spectacle, he said, had "definitively turned him off voting."

In this gloomy landscape abandoned by voters, there are few personalities who make people want to vote.  "I want to vote for, not against a candidate," says Michel Feringer, 69, who has been asbstaining from voting since the 1980s.  Kevin Louw, 27, feels "manipulated":  "They guilt-trip us . . . you have to vote against someone or it'll be the end of France!"  "Great," he said ironically, "half of my votes were to stop somebody, not in favor of ideas."


"At present there is no personality of a stature worthy of carrying out high-level functions, capable of bringing a new thrust to the country and ensuring a representation worthy of France vis-à-vis other nations," said Alex Nordmann, 60.  Sylvain Torchet, 48, for his part will only vote again "if [he has] the feeling there's a political personality with what [he thinks] is a coherent program that will be carried out."

In the meantime, what to do?  There are many who demand that blank ballots be recognized, as this would offer an alternative to abstention.  Others are thinking of new ideas, like "choosing by lottery, which is seen as a bizarre solution, when it was one of the chief mechanisms of Athenian democracy," said Pierre Lebrun, 27.  "With the new technology," added Franck Lyange, 33, "you can imagine a different system that is even more democratic, where representatives would be chosen to propose laws, and it would be up to voters to pass them via the Internet."

Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Phone: 253-535-7219
Homepage: www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/
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