French Protests Follow Student Opposition to Le Pen and Macron Runoff

Demonstrations will take place across France on Saturday on the heels of university protests which saw anger vented at the presidential election choice of incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Police have warned there might be incidents in demonstrations against the far right which are planned in around 30 cities across the country. Anti-Macron protesters will also gather in the French capital. At time of writing, some have already begun.

The actions follow a week of protests expressing unhappiness at the result of the first round of the election on April 10 in which no left-wing candidate made the runoff.

Le Pen who heads the National Rally (Rassemblement National) got 23.1 percent of the votes, close behind Macron's 27.85 percent, Reuters reported.

French students
Students demonstrate against the two final candidates in the French presidential election—incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen—at the Sorbonne University, on April 14, 2022, in Paris, France. Students barricaded themselves inside the Sorbonne campus during the protest. Sam Tarling/Getty Images

But on Wednesday, students who do not like either candidate started to occupy the campus of Paris' Sorbonne University, which has been the scene of many French student revolts over the years including the May 1968 uprising.

The students ended their occupation of the campus after 30 hours before police stormed the building but not not before law enforcement fired tear gas outside.

There were also protests at the University of Paris 8 and the École Normale Supérieure in the capital, as well as at the Nancy campus of political sciences institute Sciences Po, where protesters blocked the main entrance with garbage cans.

The Associated Press reported that the protesters included many who voted for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who finished one percentage point behind Le Pen in the first-round presidential vote last Sunday but did not make the runoff.

Mélenchon's voters will be crucial in the second round to Macron, who earlier this week, was only narrowly ahead of Le Pen in the polls.

Voters on the left see Le Pen who heads the National Rally (Rassemblement National) party as a threat with her promises to cut immigration. Macron has faced criticism that he has drifted too far to the right.

There is also unhappiness on the left at Macron by many who cite police brutality against Yellow Vest protesters and measures on what Macron calls "Islamist separatism."

"We now have a second round with only two right-wing candidates who are the enemies of the workers and of the youth, and we can't accept that," Sciences-Po student Gabriel Vergnes told the AP.

Meanwhile, Anais Jacquemars, a philosophy student at the Sorbonne, told Reuters. "Neither Macron nor Le Pen."

"We're tired of always having to vote for the less bad of the two, and that's what explains this revolt."

Many students have said they would rather not vote than back Macron simply as a means to stop Le Pen from winning power.

This contrasts with the 2002 election runoff in which Marine Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the far-right National Front faced off against then incumbent Jacques Chirac. The latter had won with 82 percent of the vote. The prospect of not rallying behind the mainstream candidate in the runoff on April 24 is of concern to Macron's camp.

However, the incumbent will be buoyed by the results of an IPSOS-Sopra-Steria poll on Friday which showed Marcon winning the runoff with 56 percent of votes.

Update 04/16/22, 9:00 a.m. ET: This article was updated to indicate that some protests on Saturday had begun. Headline was tweaked slightly to reflect this.