LE CAILAR, France: If a far-right MP loses his seat in France’s legislative elections on Sunday it may be down to the bullfighting prowess of his opponent, one of dozens of non-politicians inducted into the arena by President Emmanuel Macron.
“I can just see the paper on Monday,” Gilbert Collard of the anti-immigration National Front (FN) said. “The bullfighter dealt the fatal blow to Collard… with a nice drawing of a bull and my idiotic face beside it, along with the lance.”
Collard, 69, faces a skewering in the Gard area by 52-year-old Marie Sara, a willowy blonde who was a rare female bullfighter competing on horseback in the corridas of southern France and even Madrid.
“I don’t want that to happen!” Collard said, addressing hundreds of “patriots” who braved sizzling heat to attend a rally in the heart of the southern Camargue region where bullfighting is an age-old tradition.
“So go and vote, you layabouts!” the lawyer from Marseille jokingly told the supporters.
Sara, handing out campaign flyers in the market at Aigues-Mortes, told AFP: “It’s not like in a (bullfighting) arena, nothing like it. But it’s true it’s a fight–for ideas, for values and also initiatives to carry out.”
She said Collard had “done nothing in five years. I have the dynamism of (Macron’s) Republic on the Move behind me… and total knowledge of the territory since I have lived here for 40 years now.”
Collard is one of just two FN lawmakers in the outgoing parliament along with Marion Marechal-Le Pen, the niece of the party’s leader Marine Le Pen.
The eurosceptic party has been in disarray since Le Pen lost by a 20-point margin to Macron in the presidential vote last month.
Her defeat — following a cringe-worthy TV debate performance — was compounded when Marechal-Le Pen, a darling of the party, decided not to seek re-election.
Taking the microphone at the rally in Le Cailar, Marechal-Le Pen, 27, said: “This is a serious situation. We are heading towards a Macron hegemony.”
Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move (REM) party and its ally MoDem are set to grab as many as 470 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, dozens more than the 289 needed for an absolute majority.
To huge applause, Marechal-Le Pen appealed to supporters not to “abandon France to those who want her death”.
The media-friendly Collard had hoped to benefit from Le Pen’s solid performance in a region stalked by poverty and unemployment, where she led the pack in the first round of the presidential election on April 23.
But enthusiasm has waned among the FN’s rank and file.
Collard’s opponent Sara, who entered the local political arena only a month ago, came in second last Sunday with just 50 votes fewer than his score.
Collard attributed the result to record-low turnout — only half of voters cast ballots in the region, the same as the national average.
“A lot of my voters abstained,” Collard told AFP while acknowledging that the FN’s hopes of riding the populist wave that spurred Britain’s Brexit vote and the election of US President Donald Trump had been dashed.
“There was huge disappointment after the botched debate (between Le Pen and Macron), as if reality belied the dream,” Collard said.
“There’s also Marion’s departure, which is causing real sentimental suffering. Also, here, a lot of people thought I would be elected in the first round so they didn’t come out to vote.”
The FN fared badly in Sunday’s polling, when it won about 13 percent of the vote, which is expected to translate into no more than 10 seats.
It had hoped to get at least 15 seats which would enable it to form a parliamentary group and help set the National Assembly’s agenda.
“It’s the fault of the electoral system,” said pensioner Claud May, 65. “It’s a two-speed democracy.”
But his 64-year-old wife Anne holds out hope. “I’m all in for the FN and I’m sick of migrants, of foreigners to feed for doing nothing,” she said.
In the sun-drenched port of nearby Grau-du-Roi, Christian Cortial, 67, was among those who did not vote last Sunday, and he says he has not decided whom to vote for at the weekend.
“I don’t trust people who tell stories,” he said. “And I don’t like the candidates here. I’ll vote on Sunday but without conviction.”