SAINT-DENIS, France.– On the municipal panels leaning against a brick wall, the rain has finished fading the colors of a wrinkled poster, leaving barely a glimpse of a face and the slogan: “Another world is possible”. That was the promise of Jean-Luc Melenchon, far-left candidate of the France Insumisa, who came third in the first round of the French presidential election. Sylvie, a 43-year-old actress, still can’t believe it. “We’re a hair’s breadth from the second round!” she says, shaking her head in despair. In Saint-Denis, that suburb located northeast of Paris where 111,000 people live, the shock has not yet been digested. Like 61% of the voters of that commune, belonging to the department of Seine-Saint-Denis, Sylvie voted on April 10 for the extreme left candidate. In this city, the most populous of the “93”, as it is called that department by its order number, Melenchon swept it away. About 40 points more than the national average. His social promises (retirement at age 60, increase in the mobile vital minimum, etc.) found an echo throughout the department, the poorest in France. And in this multicultural city, which brings together more than 100 nationalities, his positions against Islamophobia also found fertile ground..French candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon at a campaign event, on Jan. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)“69% of Muslims in France voted for Melenchon. A stratospheric score”, says Jérôme Fourquet, director of the Opinion sector at the Ifop institute. “What I liked about him was above all his social program, his promises for ecology and the idea of a new republic,” Sylvie details. “Power in France is too vertical. An opening towards citizens is necessary, ”she says. And after the third place obtained by his champion, anger dominates. “At the moment, I only want to vote blank in the second round. The idea of voting for Macron was already unbearable for me. But after seeing him last night during the debate with Marine Le Pen, the epidermal rejection that his smugness provoked in me, acting as if he were the only intelligent person on earth, convinced me even more, ”he says. For a moment, Sylvie even thought of voting for the extreme right of Marine Le Pen. But after last night’s debate, the idea disappeared: “How to vote for that woman absolutely incapable of spinning a sentence? Just imagining her in the Elysee gives me chills, ”she says. Sylvie’s grandfather was from The Resistance during World War II. Later, he even ruled the city. She could, therefore, have attended the girls’ boarding school reserved in Saint-Denis for the descendants of holders of the Legion of Honor. But she preferred public school: “We had civics classes,” she recalls. “We were talking about Jean-Marie Le Pen – the founder of the racist and xenophobic National Front (FN) party, inherited by his daughter Marine, that changed its name to National Meeting–, but nobody felt uneasy. He made so many outbursts that we thought his party would end up being banned. And now his daughter got a third of us French to wonder if she might not be a good fit! Fortunately, it is really a zero to the left, ”she admits. Her friend Béatrice regrets that people have been interested in people and not in ideas during the campaign for the first round. Thanks to efforts to “de-demonize” her image, Le Pen’s xenophobic and racist radicalism went completely unnoticed, He says. Béatrice took the trouble to read her program: “What she proposes for culture made me nauseous. It is a completely paralyzed heritage promotion. But, in Saint-Denis, multiculturalism is our intangible heritage!”, says the 39-year-old contemporary dance teacher.A part of the Melenchon voters could, however, give in to the lepenista temptation. In 2007 they were close to 8%. This time, according to Ipsos, they could reach 18%.“The consequences would be devastating”observes the socialist mayor Mathieu Hanotin, who launched a call to vote for Macron and who yesterday – a day after the debate – received the president in his city who closed his campaign there. Macron presented his Barrios 2030 plan, promising to “multiply the means” for children, housing, employment and security.President Emmanuel Macron, at the Auguste Delaune stadium, at a campaign event in Saint-Denis. (Photo by Francois Mori / POOL / AFP)FRANCOIS MORI – POOLHanotin recalls that a third of the population of Sanit-Denis is of foreign origin and lives thanks to subsidies and popular organizations that the extreme right intends to cancel by applying the so-called “national preference ”. But the mayor is forced to admit that Le Pen has been “banalized”.“The idea of a republican front to hinder his coming to power does not feel like an urgency here,” explains Hanotin.Many accusations against the leader of the National Meeting fall on deaf ears in Saint-Denis. Le Pen is again investigated for embezzlement of 136,000 euros of European funds without anyone understanding very well what it is about. Nor his friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, seem to change the opinion of those who have, as their main concern, the price of the family shopping basket, which continues to rise. But it is true that “You cannot take a woman to the Elysee who makes you think of a French version of Donald Trump or the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban”admits Manon Aubry, a young MEP from France Insumisa who does everything possible to convince the voters of her party to vote for Macron.Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen speaks to a woman during a campaign rally at a market in Pertuis, France, Friday, April 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)If elected, Marine Le Pen has already announced it: on the night of victory she will come to Saint-Denis to bow in the basilica that houses the necropolis of the kings of France. A way, according to her, to greet the historical continuity of her country that not only passes through the Empire and the Republic, but also through the monarchy. At the entrance of the beautiful cathedral, the idea makes passers-by bristle. Every year on January 21, the royalists’ mass commemorating the death of Louis XVI is a source of criticism and irritation.The reality is that voting for Le Pen, in Saint-Denis, is no longer unimaginable. Even though the RN candidate is here far from her national registry. The city of Gabriel Peri, not far from the center, even accompanied the childhood of one of his main collaborators: Jordan Bardella, the young interim president of the party.“I knew the difficult ends of the month and the insecurity”recalls Bardella. “When we came home from school, we crossed dealers. It was then that, at the age of 15, I decided to launch myself into politics,” she recalls. Today, blocks of low-rent buildings (HLMs) loom over the remnants of the old town: a few old houses supported by mighty wooden struts that will certainly slow their collapse or demolition. Tony, in sportswear, walks by without looking at a young man who seems to be standing guard. “I’m going to pick up my son from school,” says that employee of a shoe store. In the first round he did not vote. For this Sunday… nothing is excluded. Not even Le Pen. “I have two children, 8 and 14 years old. I’m going to vote with security in mind.”, he acknowledges without mentioning the far-right candidate. At 56, François knows the Gabriel Peri area well: “When I was young, living there was nice. Families even asked to be housed in the town because it was not far from the center. But now you can’t get in,” he says. “The dealer brought insecurity and sometimes one wonders if the police were not told not to intervene,” he adds. At the mayor’s office, where he works in the school enrollment service, the atmosphere changed: “Many people talk about Eric Zemmour, the Reconquista candidate, a party even more radical and ultra-nationalist than Le Pen’s. Colleagues tell me, ‘at least there is one who says out loud what everyone thinks in silence’”. François voted for Macron in the first round. In an interview with Zadig magazine, the president once compared Saint-Denis to “a California without the sun.” That department is, in effect, a cradle of start-ups and the next Olympic Games in Paris promise to deal a fatal blow to the bad reputation of the city, stained since November 13, 2015 when the police shot down several of the perpetrators of the Islamist attacks. Maryam, 47, does her shopping at the little store in Saint-Denis. Marine Le Pen’s intention to ban the Islamic veil in public spaces leaves her breathless. “The integral veil, I understand. But a scarf that covers the hair, how can it be offensive? For her it is absurd. “I usually don’t wear a veil. But if I did, would the cops make me pay a fine? Maryam voted for Melenchon in the first round: “For retirement at 60 years old”. Her children preferred Le Pen. And they will probably vote for her again in the ballottage. “I will vote for Macron. But them, I don’t want to know. I am afraid of the answer, ”she confesses.Larissa, 40 years old, housewife, not only voted for Melenchon. He also militated for the Popular Union distributing flyers door to door. She volunteered, she helped people to carry out their administrative procedures for a long time. During the confinement she also participated in the distribution of food: “A number of students did not have enough to eat,” she recalls. To describe the five years of Macron’s mandate, she does not have harsh enough words: “She only made gestures in favor of capital and always capital!” In 2017, after the first Macron-Le Pen debate, Larissa cast a blank ballot. Now… “I think I’ll do the same. The debate left me without illusion. Anyway, Macron’s advantage is so great that I don’t think my vote is going to change anything, ”she reflects. Her great-grandfather, a commander in the Army, participated in the Liberation. And she vindicates his double culture: “My grandmother was Catholic. My Muslim grandfather. And I cook couscous as well as blanquette!”, she assures. With only three days to go before the second round, François continues trying to mobilize people: “I tell them to reflect well on the consequences of their votes. And do not think that, because Macron has a considerable advantage, there are no risks “. If Le Pen were to win, the administrative employee fears immediate chaos that would spread throughout the country. “People will take to the streets, there will be serious clashes throughout the territory and here, in Saint-Denis, after what we have 2005 – a year of enormous confrontations between the police and the youth of various neighborhoods in 1993 – would be the same in power of ten. A state of emergency will have to be established, even deciding on a military intervention”, he warns. At the moment, the danger does not seem imminent. Mohamed tries like François to do everything to avoid it. A retired engineer, he is a member of the team of the green candidate Yannick Jadot and has already made his decision: “In 2002, for the second round, I voted for Jacques Chirac (when he faced Jean-Marie Le Pen). In 2017 I did it for Macron. In 2022 it will be the third time that I will join the Republican front so that the extreme right does not pass.” But Mohamed does not hide his disappointment: “All the politicians played with the extreme right”, he says. Why would you vote like this? The retiree holds out his cell phone and shows a photo of a girl. Leyla is five years old. She is the fourth generation of immigrants from the Maghreb. And for her grandfather, her features represent the real France.