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25 Jan, 2019 01:43

Yellow Vests group gears up for European elections, gets under fire from their own comrades

Yellow Vests group gears up for European elections, gets under fire from their own comrades

A group of French Yellow Vests has announced it would put forth a list of candidates for the upcoming European Parliament elections. Yet the move has attracted a wave of criticism from their fellow protesters.

The Citizens’ Initiative Rally (RIC) announced its decision to field a group of candidates for the upcoming May elections on Wednesday, unveiling first 10 names. The list is to be expanded, as the group plans to get 69 more candidates on it.

“The citizen movement… has shown the need to transform the anger into a political project capable of giving answers to the French people who have supported it,” the group said in a statement.

The list is headed by Ingrid Levavasseur, a 31-year-old nursing assistant from Normandy. She has become a prominent speaker on behalf of the movement over the past few months. While she used to say she only wanted to be “heard,” she changed her mind in December mulling political ambitions. Levavasseur indeed succeeded in getting heard, as she was offered to become a columnist on BFMTV. She had to bow out of the job opportunity, however, saying that she received threats from hardline protesters, whom she accused of being “jealous.”

The idea to try capitalizing on the Yellow Vests movement during the European elections might actually be not a bad one, a recent poll by ELABE suggests. According to it, a list of candidates from the Yellow Vest could receive as much as 13 percent at the upcoming elections, placing third behind Macron's La République En Marche (LREM) party and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RM). Participation of the Yellow Vests would hurt the RM the most, the pollster suggested.

Le Pen herself, however appears to be receptive of the idea of Yellow Vests participation in the polls, yet remains suspicious of who might get on the list. She pointed fingers at the campaign director of the RIC, Hayk Shahinyan, who used to be with the Young Socialist Movement (MJS).

“It's not a problem for me to have a list of Yellow Vests, yet the next question is whether they will keep their independence and their autonomy,” Le Pen told CNews. “When we see around former socialist activists on such lists – this danger, it exists.”

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Political background of the personalities on the list was also questioned by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, head of the Debout la France (France Arise) party. The politician, who has generally supported the whole Yellow Vests movement, now suggested that Levavasseur might be connected to Bernard Tapie, a controversial French businessman and politician.

While the allegations were quite vague, RIC was quick to respond. Shahinyan commented on the allegations “circulating on the Internet,” telling RTL that the list was not financed by Tapie, was not initiated by him and generally had “nothing to do with Bernard Tapie.”

Criticism from fellow Yellow Vests

The RIC’s plans to head for the European Parliament elections were not accepted quietly by many other Yellow Vests activists as well, who lashed out at the aspiring Euro-politicians with allegations ranging from general betrayal of the movement to some very specific accusations.

Some activists criticized the very idea of going for European elections, arguing that the body has actually no power to improve the lives of the common folk in France – which is supposed to be the goal of the Yellow Vest movement.

Other alleged that the idea of the list – and the RIC as a whole – might be actually a government-orchestrated operation to discredit and disorganize the protest movement. To back up the idea, they cited Levavasseur's own admission that she voted Macron during 2017 presidential elections, as well as presence of Marc Doyer, a 53-year-old commercial director, on the list.

Doyer has been a member of LREM and supporter of Macron until recently, when he switched sides and joined the Yellow Vest movement. While many accused him of being opportunistic over such a drastic change within less than two months, Doyer himself explains he was simply "wrong" in his support to the President.

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It's actually not the first time a Yellow Vest activist tries to turn own popularity within the protest movement, which has been rocking France over past few months, into a political capital. Early in January, the self-appointed spokeswoman of the movement Jacline Mouraud announced creation of a party dubbed Les Émergents (the Emerging). So far, its goals look quite vague, as the party was simply described as a "party of common sense," which would provide "new and constructive ideas for the country, in harmony with the challenges of climate change."

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