The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, declared victory in her candidacy for re-election, the municipal elections postponed by the coronavirus crisis having experienced a strong breakthrough by the Greens across the country.
Sunday’s vote also appears to be a setback for the young centrist party of French President Emmanuel Macron, who presented municipal candidates for the first time and who still has no local roots across France.
Hidalgo, a socialist, largely beat the conservative candidate Rachida Dati, according to estimates based on partial results. She was elected mayor of Paris for the first time in 2014. Her re-election will allow her to oversee the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Hidalgo is supported by the Europe Ecology-The Greens party, which has gained strong influence at the national level.
Green candidates won in major cities in France, including Marseille, Lyon, Strasbourg and Bordeaux, often taking the lead in their alliance with the weakened Socialist Party.
The second round of municipal elections saw record participation, despite lingering concerns about the pandemic.
Only 40 percent of voters voted because people were required to wear masks at polling stations, maintain social distance in queues and carry their own pens to sign the voting lists.
The poll organizers wore masks and protective gloves, and in some places they were separated from the voters by transparent plastic shields. Postal voting is not allowed in France.
Macron expressed “concerns” about the low turnout, “which is not very good news,” according to his office.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, responsible for organizing the elections, said that “everywhere in France, sanitary measures … could be respected. It’s a satisfaction. ”
Sunday’s vote was to choose mayors and city councilors in about 5,000 cities.
The electoral process was suspended after the first round of the national municipal elections of March 15, which produced decisive results in 30,000 municipalities, most of them small. Macron’s critics say he would not have allowed the first round to take place at all, as it took place just as infections exploded across Europe and just two days before France did introduce extensive nationwide foreclosure measures.
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The spread of the coronavirus has slowed considerably in France in recent weeks and almost all restrictions on social and business activity have been gradually lifted in the past month. France has reported nearly 200,000 confirmed cases and 29,781 deaths during the pandemic, but experts estimate that all of the figures reported are underestimated due to limited testing and mild missed cases.
The elections, although clearly focused on local concerns, are also considered a key political indicator before the French presidential election in 2022.
Macron had said that he did not consider the elections to be a pro or anti-government vote.
However, a government reshuffle is expected in the coming weeks, as Macron seeks new political momentum amid the economic difficulties caused by the virus crisis. French authorities were criticized during the pandemic for a shortage of masks, a test of ability and the continuation of the first round of elections instead of imposing an earlier blockage.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, whose job could be threatened by the reshuffle, won a large victory in his hometown of Le Havre where he ran for mayor.
Philippe has seen his popularity increase considerably in recent weeks. He can appoint someone else as mayor if he remains in government.
Recent opinion polls show Macron’s popularity hovering around 40%, which is higher than before the virus epidemic.
His party, Republic on the Move, had no candidates in every race and, in some cases, supported local politicians on the left or right.
Government spokesman Sibeth Ndiaye acknowledged the party’s modest election results, stressing that planting local roots “takes time”.
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The Conservative Republican Party, which was the big winner in the 2014 municipal elections and has a strong network of local elected officials, seems to be doing well again.
The national far-right anti-immigration rally won a symbolic victory in the southern city of Perpignan, leading Louis Aliot to become the first party member to rule a city of more than 100,000 people.