Elections in France: far right falters as conservatives lead regional vote


PARIS – Marine Le Pen’s far-right party has stumbled, French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists have crashed and incumbent conservatives have taken the lead in the first round of regional elections on Sunday which were dominated by questions safety and record attendance.

What was supposed to be a vote centered on local concerns like transport, schools and infrastructure turned into a dress rehearsal for next year’s presidential vote, as presidential candidates took to the regional campaign to test ideas and gain supporters. Macron’s rivals on the left and right have notably denounced the management of the pandemic by his government.

The bickering seemed to deter some voters, and less than 34% showed up, according to polling agencies. Politicians from all walks of life begged voters at the household to wake up for the decisive second round on June 17.

Le Pen described the low turnout as “a civic disaster that has distorted the electoral reality of the country and produced a misleading view of the current political forces”.

The result is a clear setback for the Le Pen National Gathering, although it came in second place in most regions, according to initial official results and projections from polling agencies. He hopes to take control of a region for the first time in order to bolster his decade-long efforts to legitimize a party long seen as an undemocratic and anti-Semitic pariah.

He led the pre-election polls and steered the campaign discourse towards his privileged subjects of the police and immigration – although both are matters dealt with by central government and not by regional councils. The party dominated the first round of the last regional elections in 2015, but collapsed in the second round as parties and voters rallied against it.

The result is also a deep embarrassment for Macron, whose young La République en Marche party had hoped for the first time to establish itself in the region but failed to excite voters.

Projections from three polling agencies show that the conservative Republican Party, which currently leads seven of metropolitan France’s 13 regions, won the most votes on Sunday, between 27% and 29%.

They were followed by the National Rally at 18-19%, then the Socialist Party and its allies, the Greens, Macron’s La République en Marche and the far left France Unbowed. The first official results for each region reflected a similar distribution.

Parties that win more than 10% of the vote advance to the second round, which will determine the number of seats each party obtains in regional councils.

Many polling stations were largely empty as voting began in schools and community centers in Marseille on the Mediterranean coast in Le Touquet on the Manche. Those who showed up to vote were required to remain masked and socially distanced and carry their own pens to sign the ballot records.

The posture of potential presidential candidates has frustrated voters like Patrice Grignoux, a 62-year-old technology consultant who voted in Paris.

“The presidential election is a world in itself,” he told The Associated Press. “When you take Brittany or the Paris region, it’s totally different. The north is also completely different. … There are problems that you find at the regional level but which have nothing to do with national problems.

A key battle has taken place in Hauts-de-France, a strip of northern France that includes the port of Calais, where five of Macron’s government ministers joined the campaign – but his party did not even reach the second round, according to the first results.

Another race to watch is the region which includes Provence, the French Riviera and part of the Alps, where National Rally candidate Thierry Mariani appeared to have a thinner lead than expected over the outgoing curator. Mariani said he wanted more policing and more public funding for groups promoting individual communities, which many see as targeting Muslim associations or LGBTQ movements.

Macron’s party did not exist the last time voters chose regional leaders in 2015. He faces disillusionment with Macron’s policies, including from rural voters who supported the uprising of yellow vests against perceived economic injustice.

The virus played only a minor role in the vote. As infections have subsided and vaccinations have spread, the French government recently reopened restaurants, shops and long-shuttered travel opportunities. From Sunday, the prime minister lifted an unpopular overnight coronavirus curfew, just in time for the elections.


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