The crabs on Anne-Marie Darchen’s fish stall move lazily on the white counter. The morning rush has died out at Le Havre’s daily fish market, and many who stay in the sun near the harbor are asking for votes for Sunday’s local elections.
So far, Ms. Darchen has not thought much about the campaign. “Besides talking about coronavirus,” she says. ” The rest? Pfff. ”
Local elections are not meant to be national issues, but it is difficult when your candidate is prime minister.
The face of Edouard Philippe – the face of France’s battle against the pandemic – dominates the glossy leaflets given to passersby.
Some people think [Mr Philippe] will use his power and work for us from above. But I don’t think [his government] help little people
There has been a long time for the pandemic to influence feelings here.
France held the first ballot three months ago when the coronavirus was taking hold – a decision for which President Emmanuel Macron has been widely criticized. Over half of all voters completely avoided the polling stations.
Abstention should always be high for Sunday run-off competitions, many of which are in the most important cities in France.
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The current center-right mayor, Jean-Baptiste Gastinne, who is a running mate for Edouard Philippe, told me that the Prime Minister’s management of the coronavirus crisis had put the wind in the sails of the campaign.
“We had a lot of cases in eastern France, then the virus went to Paris, and then it would be Normandy,” he said. “So for us, here in Le Havre, the lockdown arrived in time. There weren’t too many cases, too many victims and our hospitals were not submerged like in other regions. ”
That’s great, say voters like Anne-Marie Darchen, but the problem with electing a Prime Minister for mayor is that he “will not be there.”
Philippe said if he won Sunday as he planned, he would not take office until the end of his role as prime minister. It could mean waiting until 2022.
Again, says Bruno Cautres, a political analyst, he could look for work much sooner. Rumor has it that President Macron wants a change of prime minister to signal a new departure for the government after Covid-19.
Why Macron has a dangerous decision to make
“Edouard Philippe comes from the center right,” said Cautres. “And opinion polls say that Macron is quite popular in the center right, so it would be risky for him to say” we have a good person, doing a good job, who is very popular – but I don’t keep him ” . ”
The other danger for the president, he says, is that he looks like the man who fired his deputy to be more popular.
Mr. Philippe’s nationwide approval ratings increased sharply during the crisis – unlike those of President Macron, which declined.
Bruno Cautres says the Prime Minister quickly found his role in the crisis as a “man of action,” when Macron was seen to be making big speeches but taking no action.
“Normally, in the French system, the Prime Minister is a shield for the president,” he says. “Today may be the opposite. “
Macron and his clumsy alliances
There are also other problems for Mr. Macron in this election.
Le Havre is just the most prominent example of his party, La République En Marche (Republic on the March), allying itself with center-right candidates across the country.
Macron promised during his candidacy that his party – and his government – would bridge the old political divisions by being both left and right. Not for the first time here, many believe that the left has been left behind.
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In Toulouse, the heart of the French airline industry, La République En Marche (LREM) supports the center-right coalition, Love Toulouse (Cherish Toulouse), against an alliance of left and ecological parties called Citizen Archipelago (Citizen Archipelago).
Annoying when the government highlights its green powers and its commitment to social justice.
“Ecological issues do not belong to one party more than the other,” said Jean-François Portarrieu, deputy for Macron’s party running in Toulouse. And flexibility in politics, the kind he sees in LREM, is now more important than ever, he said, “Whatever you thought of the world six months ago, before the virus, you think differently now. “
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The activist of the yellow vest Odile Maurin, who runs on the Citizen Archipelago is a new political candidate presented as a candidate in the citizen ballot. She pledged to “reach out to people who don’t vote and who are disgusted with politics.”
“I regard LREM as a right-wing party,” she said. ” [Their alliances] just confirms what I’ve been thinking for a while. ”
The government imposed new green reforms on airlines in France, in exchange for financial support during the shutdown of the coronavirus, and set up one of the most generous leave schemes in the world.
But Ms. Maurin rejects the first as a “green wash”, the second because of the government’s mismanagement of the Covid crisis.
His list is currently running shoulder to shoulder with their center-right opponent / LREM.
Why Paris can be out of reach
This election was to be an opportunity for LREM to establish itself across France.
After years of protesting against his economic reforms, President Macron is pressing to prove that he is not only the president of a wealthy urban elite.
But the party created by Mr. Macron four years ago has trouble connecting locally, even in big cities.
Paris, once considered a sparkling prize, seems to respond to party candidate Agnès Buzyn with a classic coldness.
The former health minister is currently in third position behind the socialists and the center-right.
“It is difficult to push our new ideas, our new mode of government,” she admitted at a cafe on the morning of the 17th. borough (neighborhood) this week.
“The French are a little pessimistic. They like to criticize, but in the end they will recognize that a lot of work has been done. “
Eyes on another election
After years of unrest and protests against President Macron’s plans to reform France, a kick to the polls on Sunday would be another warning shot, two years from the next presidential election.
The mood in France after the lockout is a prudent relief.
The crowds reappearing on the streets here signal the return of confidence, not resistance – at least for now.
But the coronavirus left France facing one of the worst recessions in Europe. And the effects of this virus can be unpredictable, for patients and for politicians.