France punishes its parties. Right-wing populist Marine Le Pen struggles to explain. Even head of state Macron should hardly have any reason to celebrate.
Significant losses in France’s extreme right and little support for the presidential party: Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, who are considered favorites in the race for the Élysée Palace next year, have emerged as losers from the first round of the regional elections.
Although Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN / formerly: Front National) comes in at a good 19 percent of the vote and thus in second place behind the bourgeois-conservative camp, ten months before the presidential election, the trained lawyer is weaker than before. In December 2015, the then Front National emerged as the strongest force in the regional elections in the first round. This time, the party sees chances of gaining a majority in a region for the first time in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur area. Le Pen blamed the extremely low turnout for the performance and spoke of a “civic disaster”. The second round of voting is planned for Sunday (June 27th) – until then new electoral alliances can be forged.
Head of state Macron could not count on an outstanding result from the start. His young party LREM is hardly anchored in the regions. With over ten percent of the vote, it is now lagging behind. Even the green camp overtook the presidential bloc with around 13 percent of the vote.
The strongest force is the bourgeois-conservative camp with a good 28 percent, as the TV station France 2 reported on Monday night, citing projections. The conservative Republicans and allies, along with the socialists, who are in third place with about 16 percent, currently hold most of the regions.
According to observers, the regional elections are an important test of sentiment. However, it is premature to draw final conclusions for the fight for the highest office in the coming year. Civil rights, which are strongly anchored in the regions, are at a national level and are desperately looking for a leader – a role that Nicolas Sarkozy has long played.
Turnout has never been lower
In the simultaneous regional and departmental elections, the parties were punished primarily by the turnout. At an estimated 31 to 34 percent, this is likely to have reached a historic low. The lowest turnout to date in a first round of regional elections was 46.3 percent in 2010. The elections had been postponed by three months due to the corona pandemic. France was hit hard by the epidemic; the health crisis and its consequences are also considered to be one reason for the low level of interest in the elections.
The head of the Republicans, Christian Jacob, attacked the government on TF 1 for organizing the elections. “There has never been such a mess.” The prominent left-wing politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon called for a commission of inquiry and suggested a minimum turnout. According to media reports, some polling stations in Marseille remained closed on the morning of election day. There should previously have been problems with election workers. In the north of the country, voting papers are said to have been missing from an election office. Marlène Schiappa, Assistant Minister in the Ministry of the Interior, rejected the criticism of the government on the TF 1 channel. Given the turnout, no one could brag and blame a single camp.
With the elections, among other things, the regional councils will be newly appointed. France’s regions have important competencies in the areas of public transport, education and business development, but their influence is limited compared to the German federal states.