French citizens go to the polls, albeit more slowly than usual, across the country in a regional election that some see as a prelude to next year’s presidential election.
French President Emmanuel Macron cast his vote in Sunday’s regional vote, which is also being used by analysts and politicians to gauge how much support the far-right is attracting in the country.
Marine Le Pen, chair of the right-wing National Rally party, formerly the National Front, is hoping to gain breakthroughs in at least one of the 13 regions of mainland France to help legitimize her often criticized group.
Polls suggest that the extreme right could, for the first time, win the government of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. Five million people live in the region, which includes Marseille, the second largest city in France.
Because voting is done at the local authority level, the campaign from Brittany to Burgundy to the French Riviera has focused primarily on issues such as transport, schools and infrastructure.
But top politicians are also using the 2021 elections as a platform to test ideas and gain followers before the presidential vote in April.
Voters will also choose people to run the 100 “from France”departments,”Another layer of the country’s governance system.
Slow start of the long-awaited vote on Sunday
Turnout was lower than usual at noon Sunday, with just 12% nationwide. In Marseille itself, many polling stations were reported to be practically empty.
Those who show up to vote must remain masked and socially distanced and carry their own pens to sign the voting records.
Patrice Grignoux, a 62-year-old technology consultant who cast his vote in Paris, told the AP that the focus on national politics was frustrating. “The presidential election is a world unto itself,” he said.
“When you take Brittany or the Paris region, it is totally different. The north is also completely different. There are problems that are found at the regional level but that have nothing to do with national problems. “
Minority parties look at new regional targets
Parties that get more than 10% of the vote in Sunday’s first-round regional vote can advance to the decisive second round on June 27.
An important question for the second round is whether French voters will still rally to keep Le Pen’s party out of power, as they have in the past.
Meanwhile, France’s traditional conservative republican party appears keen to maintain control of several of the seven regions it currently runs, including the all-important Paris.
But another of the strongest candidates for the National Rally is Thierry Mariani, who leads the region that includes Provence, the French Riviera and part of the Alps.
Mariani has said she wants more police on the streets and no more public funding for groups promoting individual communities, which many see as targets of Muslim associations or LGBTQ movements.
The National Rally has also called for tougher prison terms and a moratorium on immigration, though these are within the powers of the national government, not regional councils.
The French Greens party also hopes to gain new influence in the regional vote, while the Socialist Party is expected to lose ground.
Prospects are uncertain for Macron’s centrist Republic in Motion party, which is only four years old and therefore did not exist the last time voters elected regional leaders in 2015. Rural voters who supported the uprising are unlikely of the yellow vests will support party.
Regional elections were delayed until 2021 due to COVID-19. The prime minister has lifted an unpopular curfew, which begins on Sunday, just in time for the elections.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism