France’s far right has failed to win any region while the centrist ruling party of President Emmanuel Macron suffered another poll drubbing in the second round of regional elections again marked by a woeful turnout, according to exit polls.
Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) failed to realise its main ambition of winning the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur (PACA) region that includes Marseille and Nice.
Victory there would have given the RN control of a region for the first time and was seen by the party as the best prospect for bringing credibility to Le Pen’s claim that it was fit for power ahead of the 2022 presidential election.
An exit poll by IFOP showed the far right winning 44.2 percent of the runoff vote in PACA compared with 55.8 percent for the mainstream conservatives.
A second survey by Opinionway showed the far right taking 45 percent of the vote compared with 55 percent for its rivals.
In another contest in the northern Hauts-de-France region, exit polls showed the centre-right ticket led by conservative Xavier Bertrand, another contender for the presidential vote, headed for a comfortable victory over the far right.
In a post-results speech, Le Pen said: “Everything must be debated today to restore to our compatriots the desire to decide their future. I am more than ever determined to put all my energy and my will to rehabilitate politics, to make it useful in the service of the French.”
📹 "Tout doit être aujourd'hui débattu pour rendre à nos compatriotes le goût de décider de leur avenir. Je suis plus que jamais déterminée à mettre toute mon énergie et ma volonté à réhabiliter la politique, à lui rendre son utilité au service des Français." #Régionales2021 pic.twitter.com/lUbE7hCeRC
— Marine Le Pen (@MLP_officiel) June 27, 2021
Senior conservatives crowed that the centre right’s strong performance nationwide meant it was the force for change.
“The far right has been stopped in its tracks and we have pushed it back sharply,” Bertrand told his supporters moments after the polls closed.
“This result gives me the strength to seek the nation’s vote,” Bertrand said, alluding to next year’s election.
If the projections are confirmed, they will raise questions over how successful Le Pen’s strategy of softening the image of her anti-immigration Eurosceptic party to try to eat into the traditional right’s vote has been.
Even so, analysts say the apparent failure of Le Pen and her party to win in two of its strongholds should not be extrapolated on to next year’s presidential election.
French journalist Pierre Haski told Al Jazeera that far right voters typically go to the polls in higher numbers than other sectors of the electorate because they tend to be more motivated – but that did not happen in Sunday’s polls.
“[Le Pen] was counting on that gap between the motivation of her voters and the apathy of the rest of the voters. And this didn’t happen and she will have to answer questions within her own party on the reasons for that disappointment,” Haski said.
Voter turnout in the country’s 13 regions was very low and voters typically have little affinity with their regional administrations that are responsible for promoting economic development, transport and high schools.
“I don’t really know what the point is,” Helene Debotte, 31, told AFP news agency.
She said she would not vote in these polls but would in the presidential elections. “There, it’s clear what is at stake.”
Polls have shown most French do not know who leads their regions and what the entities do.
Failure for Macron
The exit polls made unpalatable reading for Macron and his Republic on the Move (LREM) party, confirming the party’s failure to put down local and regional roots despite controlling the presidency and lower house of parliament.
The IFOP estimate forecast his party would garner just seven percent nationwide in the vote.
The LREM’s chief Stanislas Guerini admitted the elections marked a “disappointment for the presidential majority”.
Despite sending several ministers to campaign and Macron himself embarking on a nationwide tour – that saw him at one point slapped by a member of the public – in some regions the party failed to muster the required 10 percent to make round two.
The LREM has no chance of winning control of a single region and is currently just number five among political parties in France.
The Socialists were on course to retain several regions, partly due to second-round pacts with the far-left France Unbowed party and Green Europe Ecology-The Greens.