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The third party of France: the abstainers

‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ said the deputy mayor as we counted the votes in the Salle du Peuple on Sunday night. This year, as the token Brit on the municipal council, I was promoted from opening the envelopes to actually counting the votes and it was immediately apparent something odd was going on.

We count the ballots by the hundred which means that after every hundred envelopes are counted, we know the percentage share immediately. It was neck-and-neck all night between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen (Macron eventually won, by a whisper) but there was a third party in the race, too.

For every hundred envelopes we opened, between 10 and in one case more than 20 were spoiled ballots. On some of them, voters had inscribed angry homilies. ‘This election is a disgrace,’ complained one voter, whose words were read out to us counters by the deputy mayor. One of us muttered: ‘She’s right.’ (Perhaps I should admit, that was me.)

Although we count the spoiled ballots, and report our numbers to the prefecture, the national figures of spoiled ballots are not reported by the State, which is handy if you wish to preserve the pretence that this election was some kind of elevated example of democracy in action.

But if anything resembling our local experience is true nationally, and this will emerge in the coming hours, then somewhere more than 10 per cent of voters turned out just to mark their disgust. That’s not even counting those who just stayed home. Who are these voters who have chosen not to endorse either candidate? They are not all extreme left wingers. I talked to a lot of people today and these voters include middle-class professionals who were simply not prepared to give Macron the benefit of the doubt.

The strong showing by the none-of-the-above Party means Macron’s victory tonight was not as overwhelming as it first seems, which is not a good omen for a successful presidency.

Jonathan Miller is an elected councillor in the south of France who expects his political career to come to an abrupt end as a result of Brexit. He blogs @lefoudubaron

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