Wearing masks, French voters return to delayed municipal elections


PARIS (Reuters) – Voters in France put on masks to vote on Sunday in a delayed second round of nationwide municipal elections, a mid-term test for President Emmanuel Macron and his ruling party which might not win a single big city.A year ago, Macron had hoped that local elections would help anchor his young centrist party in cities across France, including Paris, before a re-election slated for 2022. But more recently, presidential aides have downplayed expectations .

The 35,000 mayors of France define a policy on issues ranging from town planning to education and the environment and, although local factors generally determine voters’ choices, they give the electorate the opportunity to support or to punish a mid-term president.

“We have a government that is completely out of touch with reality,” said Naouel, a voter in the 9th arrondissement of Paris who said she supported the center-right opposition candidate.

France continued the first round of municipal elections in mid-March, less than 48 hours before Macron imposed one of the strictest coronavirus bans in Europe, forcing a long delay before the second round.

The pandemic could further reduce participation. At noon, it was 15.3%, below the 19.8% recorded for the same period in 2014.

In the polling stations in Paris, the poll clerks wore masks or face shields, some sitting behind Plexiglas screens. “It’s better organized than the last time,” said retired Jean de Nathan.

In the capital, the biggest election prize, incumbent socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo is poised to achieve a comfortable victory after a chaotic campaign by Macron and his party La République en Marche (LaRem).

Paris shouldn’t be the only disappointment for Macron.

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The Greens could well succeed in cities like Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, sometimes in alliance with the left, building on the momentum they created during the 2019 European elections. In Perpignan, the extreme party Marine Le Pen’s right could take control of its first city of more than 100,000 inhabitants.

Macron said he would “reinvent” his presidency and present a detailed plan next month for the last two years of his term.

A government reshuffle is widely expected. The biggest question mark concerns the future of Edouard Philippe, Macron’s People’s Prime Minister, who is running for his former post as mayor of Le Havre.

Report by Richard Lough and Yonathan Van der Voort Editing by Peter Graff, Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry

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