Explanation: How do local elections in France work, who are the parties and where are the main battles?


France is finally preparing to conclude its local elections, which were interrupted at the height of the country’s coronavirus epidemic.Despite concerns, the first ballot was held on March 16, but the following day, France was locked out.

This saw the second ballot, set for a week later, postponed. Now, with the lifting of the containment measures, it will continue on Sunday, June 28. It is the first time that two ballots have been so far apart.

During French local elections, citizens elect their mayors, who head the municipal councils and define local policy. They are also representatives of the state’s executive branch at the local level. As such, municipal elections can be an important indicator of the balance of power in French politics.

How do municipal elections work in France?

The candidates have put together a list of people they want on their board. The candidate whose list obtains the most votes becomes mayor, and the council is made up of people at the top of their list, more people at the top of other lists in proportion to the votes they have obtained.

If a candidate (or “head of list”) obtains more than 50% of the votes in the first round, he is elected mayor. If no candidate obtains a majority in the first round – a common phenomenon – candidates with more than 10% of the vote face each other in a second round.

Some cities and towns elected their mayor in March because he or she won more than half the vote. They have already started their new mandates.

In others, another ballot is needed to decide on the new mayor, so that the previous team remains in place.

Only about 5,000 cities will organize a second round to elect the mayor.

What are the main parties?

La France Insoumise (FI) (left)

Instead of establishing FI candidate lists, the leader Jean-Luc Melenchon encouraged and supported “citizen lists”, drawn from local groups and citizen initiatives across France.

In doing so, FI declared that he wanted to support a local “self-organization” which, she hoped, could lead to a “citizen revolution”.

But the party did poorly in the European elections, winning only 6% of the vote.

In some cities, such as Montpellier or Perpignan (south), FI has allied with other left parties.

Melenchon stressed that municipal elections are not the main objective of FI. His eyes and the movement are fixed on the presidential election of 2022.

Socialists (center-left)

The socialist mayor in office, Anne Hidalgo, votes at around 44% in Paris, in front of her main opponent, the republican candidate Rachida Dati.

Socialists have struggled since their presidential candidate won only 6% of the vote in 2017. The party still owns 12 cities of over 100,000 people, which it hopes to keep.

He could do it and bet on “union lists” with other leftist parties, like Jean-Luc Melenchon’s FI, but holding Paris is his main objective.

The Green Party (environmental, center left)

The Greens won 13.48% of the vote in last year’s European elections and are 20% in some cities.

“The time for the Greens has come,” said party leader Yannick Jadot before the municipal elections.

The party could benefit from transfers of votes in the second round.

La Republique En Marche (LREM) (center-right, liberal)

French President Emmanuel Macron, La République en Marche (LREM) is the newcomer to the race: during the last municipal elections of 2014, the party was not even founded and Macron was not even appointed Minister of Economy by the then president François Hollande.

LREM won a parliamentary majority in 2017, the year Macron was elected president. He came in second in last year’s European elections, behind Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, the National Rally (RN).

Macron said in January that he was not worried about the vote, saying that “local elections are local elections”. But that remains a big test before the next presidential election in France in 2022. Macron’s support has weakened in the face of the “yellow vests” crisis and the government has been criticized for its management of the coronavirus crisis. Macron’s party must now prove that it can win in French regions and rural areas.

In the first round in Paris, LREM candidate Agnès Buzyn ran into a former LREM member, former Macron advisor Cédric Villani, who did not qualify for the second round.

Around 2,000 councilors across France have become members of LREM since 2017, but the party hopes to gain much more, around 10,000, in the municipal elections.

The Republicans (LR) (right)

After failures in the presidential and parliamentary elections, and disastrous results in last year’s European elections (8.5% of the vote), it would be a huge victory for Les Républicains.

The party also hopes to keep the big cities of the south like Nice and Marseille. In some places, it has concluded an alliance with LREM de Macron, such as in Toulouse where candidate LR Jean-Luc Moudenc has the support of LREM.

However, with the former Prime Minister of Sarkozy, François Fillon, currently on trial – accused of having given his wife a “false job” of parliamentary assistant for which he paid her more than one million euros of public funds – the party has seen better days.

National Rally (RN) (far right)

Marine Le Pen’s far-right RN led the 2019 European elections and hopes to continue this trend.

In 2014, the party – which was then still called the National Front – won in eleven cities with more than 9,000 inhabitants. He hopes to earn more this time and has called on foreigners to run as RN candidates.

But it does not target large cities: the largest city where there is an RN candidate is Perpignan, in the south of France, with a population of 121,000 inhabitants. He arrived first in Perpignan in the first round.

Can Macron’s party make big gains?

This election is risky for the ruling party, which fought in the regions during the “yellow vests” crisis last year.

But while he can win in some big cities, small towns and villages where the party’s roots are weaker, LREM has been cautious. He only sent candidates to half of the French cities of 10,000 inhabitants, often choosing to support the LR candidates instead of sending their own.

Several ministers from Macron’s cabinet ran for mayor.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is a candidate for re-election as mayor of Le Havre (northern France), where he arrived first in the first round with 43% of the vote.

Minister Gerald Darmanin was elected mayor of Tourcoing (also in the north) in the first round, and Secretary of State Sébastien Lecornu was elected to the winner’s list in Vernon, Normandy.

Secretaries of State Marlène Schiappa are also on a list in the 14th arrondissement of Paris.

Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume drew up a list of candidates to run in Biarritz (south-west) but abandoned the race before the first lap.

Between the “yellow vests” movement and the various strikes, protests against Macron’s controversial pension reform and the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis, the image of LREM suffered.

In some cities like Nantes, Dijon and Strasbourg, during the first round, the LREM candidates even hid the party logo on their posters.

In Paris, there are two levels of voting: one for the town hall of Paris, and 20 others for each arrondissement.

Three lists for the mayor of Paris arrived in the second round: that of the socialist operator Hidalgo (23.33% of the votes in the first round), the right winger Rachida Dati (29.72%) and Agnès Buzyn LREM (17.26%).

This predicts a major loss for Macron’s LREM party since its candidate Benjamin Griveaux dropped out of the race in February after posting private sex videos.

Griveaux had been hanging around in the polls for weeks before leaving the race, in part because of bizarre campaign commitments such as the replacement of Gare de l’Est in Paris – the station connecting the city to eastern France – by a “central park”.

He was replaced in the Paris race by the former Minister of Health, Agnès Buzyn, who chose to leave his post in the cabinet while the coronavirus epidemic struck France.

As she is in third position, this decision now risks haunting her.

What about the situation of coronaviruses in France?

The coronavirus epidemic has slowed in France, but social distancing measures remain in place.

On June 28, voters at polling stations must stay at least one meter from each other and, if possible, use their own pen.

Each polling station will offer hand sanitizer or soap and water.

Turnout in French municipal elections has steadily declined since 1983. About 44% of French people went to the polling station for the first round of municipal elections.


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