Election anxiety curbs Olympic enthusiasm among Parisians ahead of the Summer Games


PARIS — Just three weeks before the Olympics, the excitement that was building up in the host city is now mingled with anxiety about France’s political future.

The far-right National Rally’s strong results in the first round of a rushed election has darkened the ambience for many in Paris, a left-wing stronghold that is one of the few places in France where the party failed to break through.

“Just imagining the far-right leading the country gives me panic attacks,” 54-year-old Fabienne Martin said after finishing lunch with her son on the upscale Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré. “I was excited when the Olympic flame arrived in Marseille, but this election has completely killed the mood.”

Though the outcome is uncertain, the second round of the legislative elections on July 7 could mark a significant shift in France’s political landscape, with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally poised to potentially gain power.

In Paris, where the National Rally received only 10% of the votes in the first round Sunday —compared with 33% nationwide —the prospects of France getting its first far-right government since World War II has pulled attention away from the city hosting the Summer Olympics for the first time in 100 years.

“I’m tensed, stressed, and anxious to see how things will turn out,” said Marius Rumillat, a 28-year-old screenwriter, enjoying a croissant in a cafe in downtown Paris.

To him, the Olympics have become a sideshow.

“Even after the elections, I’m not sure my interest will grow back,” he said.

The Paris Olympics are set to be inaugurated on July 26 with a historic four-hour opening ceremony featuring a boat parade on the River Seine. The city is buzzing with activity to prepare for unprecedented games that will incorporate some of the world’s most famous monuments. While construction crews are still building various Olympic venues, from the base of the Eiffel Tower to the Place de la Concorde, organizers insist everything will be ready on time and that the election won’t disrupt the preparations.

“France is experiencing a major democratic moment,” chief organizer Tony Estanguet said this week. “We have to stay in our places so that each and every French citizen can enjoy the games they’re looking forward to.”

Estanguet, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in canoeing, has carefully steered clear of politics as head of the organizing committee.

While Parisians fret about the election, many foreign visitors appear unaware or unbothered by the political developments, enjoying the masterpieces in the Louvre Museum and posing for photos in front of the Olympic Rings draped beneath the Eiffel Tower.

“I think that most people care about the Olympics, not politics,” said Young Mook Park, a 44-year-old tourist from South Korea, who reached through a construction barrier to snap a picture of Paris’ historic city hall.

President Emmanuel Macron called the snap election after a defeat at the hands of the National Rally in European Parliament elections last month, gambling that the far-right would not repeat its success in a domestic ballot. The plan backfired and his party is now desperately trying to prevent Le Pen’s party of wining an outright majority in the second round.

In the Batignolles food market, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, of Macron’s Renaissance party, campaigned Tuesday with one of his ministers, Stanislas Guerini, who is at risk of losing his seat in the National Assembly.

Thierry Chesnel, a 54-year-old butcher, watched the entourage pass his stand, followed by a swarm of cameras. He expressed indifference about the campaigning.

“All I care about, frankly, is getting more clients in front of my shop. Is Mr. Attal bringing more clients? No,” he grumbled.

Chesnel said he did not feel any excitement about the Olympics either.

“The only thing I’ll see of these Olympics is that small flag,” he said, pointing to a garland with Olympic rings hung above his stand.

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games



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