Regional election runoffs get under way in France

First-round results marked a boost for the traditional right-wing Republicans as well as the Socialist Party.

Voters wait in line prior to casting their ballots at a polling station in Velizy-Villacoublay, for the second round of the French regional elections [Thomas Coex/AFP]

Voters in France are going to the polls in the second round of regional elections on Sunday after a first round that saw a drubbing for President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party, disappointment for Marine Le Pen’s far right and record low turnout.

Voting began at 8am (06:00 GMT), with the last polling stations due to close 12 hours later.

For some observers, the outcome of the first round on June 20 raised doubts over whether the 2022 presidential election would come down to a duel between Macron and Le Pen in a runoff long seen as the most likely scenario.

The first-round results marked a boost for the traditional right-wing Republicans as well as the Socialist Party, who have been squeezed after the centrist Macron surged into power in 2017 with his new Republic on the Move (LREM) party.

Analysts warn against too much extrapolation onto a nationwide scale from the results of the regional elections, which choose the heads of France’s 13 mainland regions from Brittany in the northwest to the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur (PACA) region in the southeast.

But there was cross-party concern over the turnout for last week’s polls, which were shunned by 66.72 percent of voters – a record in modern France.

The woeful turnout prompted a debate over how to improve participation, with several figures including government spokesman Gabriel Attal suggesting electronic voting could help in future.

According to a poll published on Thursday, just 36 percent of voters plan to cast their ballots on Sunday.

Far-right eyes breakthrough

The first-round results put Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) ahead in just one region, PACA, a major disappointment after polls showed a possible breakthrough in several areas.

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

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

Despite sending several ministers to campaign and Macron himself embarking on a nationwide tour – that saw him slapped by an onlooker at one point – in some regions LREM did not muster the required 10 percent to make round two.

LREM has almost no chance of winning control of a single region and is currently just number five among political parties in France.

The Socialists are expected to pick up some regions, partly due to support from the far-left France Unbowed party.

Source: AFP