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EU elections: What became of the Yellow Vest candidates?

Christophe Simon / AFP | All eyes were on how 'Yellow vest' protestors voted during the EU Parliament elections, on May 26.

Two candidate lists containing the names of members of France’s Yellow Vest movement (the “Gilet Jaunes”), who have been demonstrating across the country for more than 6 months, won less than 0.6% in Sunday’s EU vote.

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Even before Sunday's vote began, however, polls had suggested a majority of supporters of the movement favoured the far-right National Rally party.

As European Union voters headed to the polls on May 26 to elect their new Parliament, in France observers were keeping a close watch on the votes of “Yellow vest” protestors in the first elections since the movement began in November.

Among the 34 lists of candidates, two were solely composed of Yellow Vest members. One list, the Yellow Alliance, headed by singer Francis Lalanne won 0.54% of the vote. The second, the Christophe Chalençon-led “Citizen Evolution”, won only 0.01%.

Apart from these lists, some parties had “Gilet Jaunes” members amongst their candidates. Other parties also claimed to be representing the movement, which every Saturday since November took to the streets of France with their biggest march culminating in 282,000 protestors.

Despite the movement's ability to attract large swathes of followers, these lists failed to reach the 5% threshold needed to get candidates into the EU parliament.

Initially a protest against proposed fuel tax increases, the “Yellow vest” movement quickly snowballed into widespread demonstrations against French President Emmanuel Macron, whom the protestors held responsible for the day-to-day struggles of low earners in small-towns and rural France.

At the very beginning of the movement, questions were raised over a possible political party to represent the movement directly. As early as December, opinion polls estimated that a then-hypothetical Yellow Vest list of candidates would win around 10% in the EU Parliament elections.

But six months later, and the final poll results have shown those projections to be false.

Across the country, Sunday’s election turnout reached 50.5% -- 8 points higher than 2014’s previous vote. It was also high in France’s rural and less inhabited areas, which were strongholds for the “Yellow vest” movement.

A vote for the far-right National Rally

According to an opinion poll by Ifop published two days before the elections, however, 44% of those who supported the Yellow Vest movement said they would vote for the far-right National Rally (RN), with only 4% declaring they’d vote for President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM).

“Very clearly, the ‘Yellow vests’’ true political outlet in these EU Parliament elections is the RN”, PollingVox president Jérôme Sainte-Marie argued.

But each of the movement’s leaders seem to have voted differently.

Thierry Paul Valette had first announced he would lead his own list, before giving it up, then announcing his support for Macron’s LREM, and finally preferring not to vote at all. As for Ingrid Levavasseur, she initially headed up the Yellow Alliance list then pulled out, finally declaring that she had cast a Green Party ballot instead, according to AFP. Jacline Mouraud said she preferred to submit a blank ballot while Hervé Giacomonie, spokesman for the Yellow Vests in the central-eastern Aube, announced that he would back the UPR party, who were campaigning for a “Frexit”.

The Yellow Vest movement “is mainly characterised by a belief that those elected to represent them do not have the legitimacy to do so. Furthermore, there wasn’t really a ‘Gilet Jaunes’ list, but rather a legacy that different political forces tried to benefit from”, Frédéric Dabi, Ifop’s deputy director, analysed.

Emmanuelle Reungoat, Lecturer at the Montpellier University, is more nuanced. “When we talk about the ‘Yellow Vests’, we tend to consider them as a whole. But what makes the movement unique is the fact that every member is very different from the other”, she told AFP.

This article has been adapted from the original in French.

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