Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party received what one of its own deputies called a “slap in the face” in regional and departmental elections on Sunday.
The president and his government have failed to mobilize their supporters, with around 68% of voters avoiding polling stations – an unprecedented abstention rate. If there was any consolation for the ruling party, it was that exit polls suggested that Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally did not get the support it expected.
Initial results indicated that the main winners were various center-right parties, including the main opposition Republican party, which was supported by 29.3% of voters. The National Rally polled 19.1% and the Socialist Party 16.5%. Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) would have collected 10.9% of the vote.
Aurore Bergé, LREM MP, considered that the result was a democratic “slap”. “I’m not going to downplay what happened,” Bergé told BFMTV.
In Île de France, of which Paris is part, the center-right candidate Valérie Pécresse was in a strong position to retain control of the region.
In the 2015 regional elections, just over 50% of French people did not vote, compared to just under 53.7% in 2010.
The vote was to elect new councils for the 13 metropolitan regions and one overseas region as well as 96 departments. Regional councils have budgets of several billion euros and are responsible for schools, transport and economic development. A total of 15,786 candidates stood for 4,108 seats. Winners are normally elected for a six-year term.
Le Pen did not run as a candidate but campaigned fiercely, especially in rural areas where support for the far right remains high.
“Our voters did not come,” she said in her first comments after the vote from her stronghold of Hénin-Beaumont in northern France. “I call on them to respond urgently.”
In the Paris region, voters had the choice between 11 lists – the candidates present a list of proposed advisers – including Pécresse for a right-wing coalition, the former journalist Audrey Pulvar for the socialists, Julien Bayou for Europe Ecologie les Verts, and Clémentine Autin for the left Unbowed France.
This year’s campaign – with a vote delayed for three months due to the pandemic – was unique in that the sanitary measures meant there could be no door-to-door, which anyway n It’s not a widespread French electoral tradition, and until recently outside gatherings were forced by health restrictions.
Parties were required to present electoral rolls that listed male and female candidates consecutively on their lists. The number of candidates from each list elected depends on the score of each party.
Le Pen’s National Rally hopes to take control of a region to bolster its decade-long efforts to legitimize its party, the former National Front. The region considered most likely to fall into far-right hands is the traditional stronghold of the National Rally in the southeast of the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region which covers Marseille, Saint-Tropez and Cannes. However, the party was strong in five other regions, including Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Center-Val de Loire, New Aquitaine, Occitanie and Brittany.
In Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the first estimates suggest that the National Rally is jostling shoulder to shoulder with Les Républicains after the first round.
Between Sunday’s results and the second round next week, the focus will be on alliances between the parties. Candidates running in the first round must get at least 10% of the vote to advance to the second round, and a major question for the second round is whether French voters will regroup again to keep Le Pen’s party out of power. as they have done in the past. .
It is generally accepted that it does not make sense to confuse regional results with predictions of what will happen in next year’s presidential election. Neither the dominant right, The Republicans, nor the dominant left, the Socialists, have a credible presidential candidate at this stage.
Analysts said the level of abstention cast doubt on any political prediction.
A recent poll for the Journal du Dimanche suggested that 49% of the French believed that any regional victory would make the National Rally a “danger to democracy”.
Most polls suggest the 2022 presidential race will be a second round between Macron and Le Pen.
The second round of regional and departmental elections will take place next Sunday.