Thursday, October 28

Macron and Le Pen face a new test as France returns to vote in regional polls | France

France began voting in the second round of regional elections on Sunday after a first round that resulted in a beating for President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party, a disappointment to the far-right Marine Le Pen and a record turnout.

For some observers, the result of the first round on June 20 raised questions about whether the 2022 presidential election would come down to a duel between Macron and Le Pen in a runoff long considered the most likely scenario.

The results of the first round were a boost for the traditional right-wing Les Républicains, as well as the Socialist Party, which were squeezed after the centrist Macron came to power in 2017 with his new party La République En Marche (LREM).

Analysts warn against excessive extrapolation to the national scale of the results of regional elections, which elect the heads of France’s 13 continental regions, from Brittany in the northwest to the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region. in the southeast.

But there was cross-party concern over turnout in last week’s elections, which were rejected by 66.72% of voters, a record in modern France.

“What we are seeing is the culmination of a disconnect between voters and the political class,” said Jessica Sainty, a professor of politics at the University of Avignon, although she acknowledged that the Covid-19 crisis also influenced the high abstention rate. .

The unfortunate turnout sparked a debate on how to improve turnout, with several figures, including government spokesman Gabriel Attal, suggesting that electronic voting could help in the future.

According to a poll published Thursday, only 36% of voters plan to cast their vote on Sunday. “France is in a bad mood,” said Le Parisien newspaper.

The results of the first round put the Le Pen National Rally (RN) ahead in just one region, PACA, a huge disappointment after polls showed possible progress in several areas.

One of the most closely watched races on Sunday will be whether candidate RN Thierry Mariani can defeat his right-wing rival Renaud Muselier in the region.

Gaining control of a region for the first time would be a huge boost for Le Pen as he seeks to convince voters that the RN, which he has reformed and renamed since replacing his father, Jean-Marie, is a serious party of Energy.

Muselier could be helped by the withdrawal of leftist candidates in a repeat of the “Republican Front” seen in past presidential elections to block the far right.

“The idea of ​​a victory for Mariani, although far from probable, would show that the RN can almost triumph alone over the coalition of all the others and lead the powerful executive of a modern region,” said Jérôme Sainte-Marie. , the president of the PollingVox Institute.

Mariani has been accused by critics of being an admirer of authoritarians such as Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad. Prime Minister Jean Castex warned last week that a Mariani victory would be “very serious” for the country.

The RN also fell short in the Île-de-France region that includes Paris, where its 25-year-old rising star Jordan Bardella failed to upset right-wing incumbent Valérie Pécresse, who is expected to easily win the second round. .

The results of the first round made an even more unpleasant reading for Macron and his LREM, confirming the party’s failure to put down local and regional roots despite controlling the presidency and the lower house of parliament.

Despite sending several ministers to the campaign and Macron himself embarked on a national tour, during which he was slapped by a spectator, in some regions the LREM did not meet the 10% required to do the second round.

“2022: What if it wasn’t them?” asked the headline of the left-wing newspaper Liberation about a photo of Macron and Le Pen.

LREM has almost no chance of gaining control of a single region and is number 5 among political parties in France.

The Socialists are expected to take back some regions, partly due to the support of the far-left France Unbowed party.

“LREM lacks a local presence, but in 2017 that did not prevent them from winning the presidential and legislative elections,” Sainty said.

Voting began at 8 am local time (0700 BST) on Sunday, and the last polling stations will close 12 hours later.

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