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French overseas territories show their dissatisfaction by pivoting to Le Pen

France’s Caribbean overseas territories have often been demonstrative in their dislike of far-right presidential candidates. On the 1988 campaign trail, Jean-Marie Le Pen was met with protests at a Martinique airport, which prevented his plane from landing. In 2017, his daughter Marine’s highest score in the Caribbean region was just 35.1 per cent, in Guiana.

But in Sunday’s run-off, Marine Le Pen secured some of her strongest gains of the election as voters in the former French colonies showed their dissatisfaction with Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen beat Macron in Guadeloupe, Martinique and Guiana, taking more than 60 per cent of votes. The support “honoured” her and touched her “deeply”, she said in her post-result speech.

The Caribbean territories overwhelmingly backed far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round of the election two weeks ago but switched to Le Pen in a protest vote, according to Mikaa Mered, a lecturer on the French overseas territories at the university of Sciences Po.

“Marine Le Pen managed to suck in the anger over health and vaccines from one side, and the social anger vote from the other side,” he said, adding that the anti-Macron sentiment in the West Indies, Guiana and Réunion in the Indian Ocean was “stronger than the hatred, which Marine Le Pen’s ideas can generate”.

Despite calls from Mélenchon and some of his local representatives not to vote for the far right on Sunday, votes were clearly transferred from his electoral base to Le Pen’s.

Sony Chroné, a 51-year-old professional skipper and voluntary fireman, said he has not voted since Mitterrand, but was not surprised about Le Pen’s result. “The West Indies are against Macron,” he said. “Five years ago people did not vote for Macron but against Le Pen. He was the only person facing her. This year it was the opposite.”

Mered said the vote against Macron was the consequence of a “loss of trust” in the French state’s handling of public health over the past 30 years and exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. While the mass use of chlordecone, a toxic pesticide for banana plantations, between 1972 and 1993, sparked a public health crisis, the pandemic shed light on the territories’ lower ratio of acute hospital beds per person than in continental France.

 “A lot of people hate [Macron]. The Covid health pass — the mandatory vaccination — really disgusted people. We are not really pro-vaccine here,” said Chroné.

Vaccine hesitancy has been strong in the overseas territories. In Guiana, only 29.8 per cent of adolescents and adults have received two doses of Covid vaccines — compared with a national average of 79.3 per cent.

Commenting on the overseas results, Bruno Le Maire, finance minister in Macron’s government, said: “The [overseas departments are] a very important part of the French territory. Those results mean that we have to do more and we have to do better.” 

Le Pen also emerged as the preferred candidate in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Mayotte, which backed her with 59.1 per cent of votes.

Mayotte’s move to the right was however anticipated by researchers. Although Macron came out ahead in 2017, Le Pen made a good showing with 42.9 per cent. The territory has long voted for the traditional republican right and struggles with clandestine immigration from the Comoros islands, said Mered.

The Indo-Pacific territories of French Polynesia and New Caledonia painted a different picture, with Macron claiming a narrow victory in Polynesia and a clear lead in New Caledonia.

“The Pacific has a completely different dynamic. It does not have the same logic of colonisation . . . security issues prevail there”, said Mered. In New Caledonia, abstention was on the rise and benefited the incumbent. The voters who made the journey to cast their votes were probably anti-independentists showing their backing for the state, he added.

On the Mediterranean island of Corsica, which was rocked by pro-independence riots last month, Macron trailed Le Pen with 42 per cent of the votes to her 58 per cent.

In other overseas polling stations, French expatriates who cast their ballots in consulates around the world largely backed Macron. The pro-European, globalist president received 86 per cent of all French expatriates’ votes.

This article has been amended since original publication to correct 1998 campaign trail to 1988.

Additional reporting by Sarah White in Paris and Eir Nolsøe in London

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