- Le Pen aims for historic victory in the south of France
- Macron facing a challenge ahead of the 2022 presidential election
- The attendance rate at noon one of the lowest in history
PARIS, June 20 (Reuters) – French voters went to the polls on Sunday for regional elections that will test the attractiveness of the softened image of far-right leader Marine Le Pen within one year of the next presidential election.
After a grueling year and a half of lockdowns, curfews and restrictions, Sunday’s first round is set to prove disastrous for President Emmanuel Macron, whose party is not expected to win any of the 13 regions of mainland France.
Stimulated by a resurgence of public order issues during the campaign, despite the fact that French regions lack police powers, Le Pen hopes to capitalize on a rebranding that saw its promises of “Frexit” and its incendiary rhetoric abandoned.
“It appears less extreme in the eyes of the French, less dangerous for democracy, than it was a decade ago,” Brice Teinturier, analyst at the IPSOS pollster, told Reuters.
The best chance for his National Rally party is in the south of France, the region around Marseille and Nice, where one of Le Pen’s lieutenants, a former Conservative minister, is cast by an opinion poll as the winner of the race even if all parties are mobilizing against him.
Winning a region, for the first time, would give Le Pen a boost within a year of the presidential elections, and would be a slap in the face for Macron, who presented himself as a bulwark against the far right.
“If the choice is indeed between the National Rally and the center-right, like Mr. Macron, personally I will not vote (in the presidential elections),” director Emmanuel Barraud, 61, told Reuters outside a polling station. in Paris.
“I think we have to accept that the game is over, and we have to start preparing for the future and the future is rebuilding a true left party. “
The turnout at noon was one of the lowest in the history of the French elections at just 12.2%, against 16.3% in 2015.
The far-right should also do well in two other regions, around Calais in the north and in Burgundy, helped by low participation in a country whose attention is focused on the summer holidays to forget the pandemic.
In the north, the outgoing and favorite to become the Conservatives’ presidential candidate, Xavier Bertrand, faces Le Pen’s party spokesman and Macron’s justice minister.
Whether Macron’s party hits the 10% threshold will determine whether he can force Bertrand to form an alliance to defeat the far right, which would undermine his case as Macron’s chief opponent in 2022.
However, a victory for Bertrand would strengthen his chances of becoming the Conservatives’ presidential candidate. Macron’s aides see the former health minister as a rival who would erode the president’s center-right electoral base.
The results of Sunday’s first round will send parties on a frantic backstage for two days to forge alliances ahead of the June 27 final round.
“I came to vote so that totalitarian parties like France Insoumise (far left), or the Greens or the National Rally – do not win,” said Vincent Thomas, a 52-year-old artist who was also voting in Paris.
Report by Michel Rose; edited by John Irish and Christina Fincher
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