March 13, 2020 / 3:26 PM / 18 days ago

Ex-soccer star hopes to score big in French local elections

PARIS, March 13 (Reuters) - Vikash Dhorasoo is not your usual candidate for a local election in France, but the ex-French soccer international hopes to send a message that politics can be done differently as he campaigns to become the mayor of one of Paris’ more diverse districts.

Voters will begin choosing mayors for 35,000 town halls and almost half a million councillors in local elections this weekend overshadowed by the coronavirus outbreak and by growing public scepticism about traditional politics in France.

In the capital’s 18th district, best-known for the Sacre-Coeur basilica which sits atop Montmartre, Dhorasoo, a 46-year-old former Paris St Germain player, is the mayoral candidate of the far-left party, La France Insoumise (France unbowed).

Explaining how his sports background broadens his appeal to voters, Dhorasoo told Reuters: “Football is a sort of passport. Often we came from working-class neighbourhoods, sometimes we came as immigrants and then we changed social class.”

“I think people have had enough of the old politics and want new faces. Normal people have the right to be in politics.”

France’s municipal elections traditionally see a higher turnout, with local politicians often viewed in a better light than their national counterparts as they are considered more in touch with what’s going on in people’s everyday lives.

“This is an area that represents everything in the world, with some parts that are really rich and other areas where there are crackheads,” Dhorasoo said. “I think we can make this district great.”

The elections are an important test for President Emmanuel Macron after a wave of protests over the last year, first from the “yellow vests” movement and now from opponents of his plans to reform the French pensions system.

France decided to go ahead with the elections despite the concerns over coronavirus, which has led the government to shut schools and universities and suspend major sporting events.

Handing out fliers and strolling through the local market, Dhorasoo’s past clearly helps stoke interest among voters even if at times they are a bit bemused to hear him talking about the environment or of how their district has been neglected.

“It’s a bit weird seeing him here,” said Richie, a grocer in the La Chapelle market. “The fact he is an ex-footballer is intriguing and makes me want to look more closely. I don’t think it influences my decision on who to vote for, but it makes me dig a bit more.” (Writing by John Irish Editing by Gareth Jones)

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