Ballots for French presidential election candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen appear at a polling station Sunday in Tulle, France. About 4 million voters returned spoiled or blank ballots. Photo by Caroline Blumberg/pool/EPA
May 8 (UPI) -- A record number of French voters cast their ballots for nobody in the presidential election won by centrist Emmanuel Macron
A total of 4,066,802 people -- nearly early 9 percent of voters -- turned in blank or spoiled ballots Sunday, according to Interior Ministry. That's the highest number since the Fifth Republic was founded in 1958. The "ballot blank" as a protest vote dates to the French Revolution.
Also, a record 12,041,313 of people registered to vote stayed away from the polls -- the highest number of abstentions since 1969, when conservative candidate Georges Pompidou crushed centrist Alain Poher.
In all, nearly 17 million people didn't vote for either candidate -- which is 33 percent of the eligible voters. It was 24 percent in 2012.
That's more than the 10,637,120 who voted for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
Macron received almost double the number of votes -- 20,703,694. At 39 years old, he will be France's youngest president.
Guillaume Castevert, 46, from Bordeaux in southwest France, told CNN he voted blank after his favored candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon, of the left-wing Le France insoumise movement, lost in the first round.
"I don't want to vote against something," he said. "I want to vote for something."
The French electoral system disappoints Castevert.
"I'm quite convinced that the election system is not very democratic. In fact, it's quite the opposite," he said. "Every five years you make people feel like they are important, like their vote counts, but it doesn't really matter."
The non-vote sentiment grew in social media with hashtags such as #SansMoiLe7Mai (without me on May 7), #NiPatrieNiPatron (neither country, nor boss) and #NiMarineNiMacron (neither Marine, nor Macron) going viral.
"These hashtags show how society has changed, how the political landscape has changed, and how people are trying to take back what is theirs ... democracy," Rim-Sarah Alouane, a Ph.D. candidate and researcher in public law at the University of Toulouse, said to CNN.
The Boycott 2017 group urged French people to reject both candidates.
It was the first time in more than half a century that no candidate from the left or right mainstream parties advanced to the final voting.
"This year there were lots of people who felt a bit lost because they couldn't bring themselves to vote Macron but they wanted to register their dislike for Marine Le Pen," Rainbow Murray, an associate professor of French politics at Queen Mary University London, told NBC News.
Sylvain Brouard, research professor in electoral behavior at CEVIPOF, a political research institute at Sciences Po, told NBC four parties have emerged.
"Traditionally France had two party coalition system -- if the communists were ahead, the socialists would step aside and support them -- now we have four parties and no one is willing to make coalitions," Brouard said.
Because the far left will no longer vote for centrist candidates, even to defeat the far right, there is this
"new polarization of the left."