Political ambitions reveal cracks in 'yellow vest' movement

ASSOCIATED PRESS
PARIS
Published 09.02.2019 00:02 Modified 09.02.2019 00:02

Having brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets over the past three months in protest at French President Emmanuel Macron's politics, yellow vest activists now want to build on their street cred to achieve electoral success. But the movement, named after the fluorescent garments French motorists must carry, is divided: it has no appointed leader, gathers people from across the political spectrum and has an array of demands.

With the next elections to the European Parliament set for the end of May, no fewer than four groups from the grassroots movement could submit lists of candidates for the ballot. Some media-savvy yellow vest figures also are tempted to run under the mantle of traditional political parties trying to take advantage of their popularity.

No wonder unity seems impossible to achieve within a movement featuring multiple political currents and fighting for a multitude of demands, ranging from the reintroduction of France's wealth tax on the country's richest people to the implementation of popular votes allowing citizens to propose new laws.

In any case, the prospect of yellow vest lists has triggered criticism from inside their own ranks, revealing cracks in the burgeoning movement.

Despite recent opinion polls suggesting that a yellow vest list could garner as much as 13 percent of the votes at the May 26 election, and inflict serious damage to both far-right and far-left parties, many protesters have warned against the idea of entering the political fray.

"A yellow vest list is a serious mistake," Francois Boulo, a popular figure of the movement in western France, told The Associated Press this week. "The European Parliament has no power to improve people's life while yellow vests want to get immediate and concrete improvements. Besides, yellow vest lists will weaken opposition parties in the election and automatically reinforce the ruling party."

Among the groups of yellow vests planning to field candidates, the Citizens' Initiative Rally is expected to be led by a 31-year-old care worker, Ingrid Levavasseur. "To me it's obvious, we need to seize the electoral sphere," Levavasseur said. "It's just the first step. Next will be the local elections. It's time for us to build something. Some yellow vests are really angry, but many others have said they want to join the list."

However, another figure of the movement has criticized Levavasseur's choice to run for candidate. Benjamin Cauchy is accusing her of lacking a clear political vision and is worried the characteristics of the cross-party movement could be lost if yellow vest lists are entered.

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