France is voting in the first round of regional elections that could see Marine Le Pen’s far-right party gain breakthroughs and further advance in the political mainstream.
In Sunday’s elections, new assemblies will be chosen for the 13 regions and 96 departments of mainland France, and the Le Pen National Rally (RN) will be inclined to win at least one region for the first time in what would be a major coup.
Le Pen is not running as a candidate, but she has been campaigning ahead of next year’s presidential elections that, according to polls, could end up being a close race between her and centrist President Emmanuel Macron.
Although far-right politicians preside over a handful of cities in France, running a region with a billion-euro budget and powers over schools, transportation and economic development would give it the kind of legitimacy Le Pen craves, they say. analysts.
“What would be great for her, and build momentum in the pre-presidential campaign, would be if the National Rally won a region,” said Stephane Zumsteeg of polling firm Ipsos.
The region most likely to tilt is southeastern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, home to Marseille, Saint-Tropez and Cannes, where the RN is headed by Thierry Mariani, a former minister who defected from the center-right Republicans. party.
The election will take place over two consecutive Sundays, with a second round being necessary on June 27, unless the parties win more than 50% in the first round.
Results in many regions will be driven by local dynamics and a high abstention rate, limiting how much they should be seen as indicators for the broader political landscape in France, analysts say.
But the outcome will inevitably shape the narrative in the coming weeks, particularly regarding Le Pen’s strength and eligibility, as well as the status of Macron’s La République En Marche (LREM) party.
A poll conducted last week by the groups Ipsos and Sopra Steria showed that the RN candidates lead in six of the 13 regions of the continent in the first round, which means that Sunday night’s results could suggest radical gains for the party. .
But due to the tactical anti-RN voting, they could end up losing all the second round votes, as they did at the time of the last election in 2015. A possible record abstention rate of up to 60% could also be a major factor. . factor.
“The more abstention increases, in terms of the number of votes cast, the ends of the political spectrum are the winners,” said Pierre Lefebure, a political scientist at the Sorbonne University in Paris.
Antoine Bristielle, a public opinion expert at the left-leaning Jean-Jaures Foundation, believes the vote is likely to serve as another step in normalizing the once fringe far-right.
“It is seen that it is not so much that the ideas of the National Rally are more popular or are more accepted by French society,” he told AFP. “It’s that the party no longer scares people enough to provoke a wave of opposition.”
Voters have largely ignored a series of scandals that have engulfed at least half a dozen RN candidates over their previous racist or anti-Semitic comments, or criminal records.
The election could also result in gains for the EELV green party, which performed well in local elections last year.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism