Marine Le Pen may have lost to Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election, but the far-right candidate finished far ahead of the incumbent in some of France’s overseas territories, doubling or in some cases even trebling her vote share.
In the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique and in French Guiana, the National Rally leader scored 69.6%, 60.8% and 60.7% respectively. She also won in the Indian Ocean constituencies of Mayotte (59.1%) and Réunion (59.5%).
Le Pen went out of her way to mention overseas voters on Sunday night, thanking in particular “our compatriots in the overseas territories who placed me first with an extraordinary force. This forgotten France, we will not forget.”
The far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon had finished a comfortable first in most of the overseas territories in the first round, and the scale of Le Pen’s victories there on Sunday took many analysts by surprise.
“I was expecting the gap to narrow, not a complete inversion of the scores,” Justin Daniel, a political scientist at the University of the Antilles, told Le Parisien, adding that Mélenchon’s high first-round score showed the final result was “above all a protest vote against Macron rather than a vote for Le Pen”.
But Yvan Combeau, a historian at the University of Réunion, said Le Pen’s scores reflected a sustained drive for votes by the far-right party in the overseas territories, where social deprivation is significantly higher than on the mainland.
“This was more than just a punishment vote,” Combeau told the paper. “It shows a degree of genuine adherence to the discourse and positions that are the hallmark of the National Rally, particularly around social questions such as the cost of living, wages and housing.”
The division between the mainland and the overseas départements and territories was most marked during the pandemic, with fierce resistance to vaccination in the latter leading to rates sometimes less than half those in the former.
Macron’s decision to mandate jabs for healthcare, transport and emergency service workers, and France’s health pass – requiring proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test to visit cafes, restaurants, cinemas and other public venues – was deeply unpopular, leading to violent demonstrations and the deployment of extra police.
Olivier Serva, a Guadeloupe MP, said last year that the situation on the island was “quasi-insurrectional” and reflected “weakening state authority”, while Maité Hubert M’Toumo, a trade unionist, said the protests “express the depth of suffering, inequality, poverty and exclusion felt by the people”.
Bruno Tertrais of France’s Foundation for Strategic Research thinktank, however, said that at least part of the blame for the breakdown lay with “the extraordinary irresponsibility of many local leaders – political, social and religious – who have been fuelling the fires of discontent”.
Patricia Braflan-Trobo, a professional mediator and sociologist in Guadeloupe, told Le Monde she was “sickened” by the result, saying that what “triumphed here last night were the conspiracy theorists and the anti-vaxxers … I am convinced French Caribbean citizens do not support the National Rally’s positions.”
Marie-Luce Penchard, a centre-right politician and former minister from the island, said the government’s overall record in the overseas territories was good but there had been “strategic errors” and a “lack of compassion” on the part of the Macron administration. “We no longer know how to talk to our overseas citizens,” she said.
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