RPT – REVIEW – Greens, National Rally Make Progress in French Local Elections Amid Low Turnout

BRUSSELS (UrduPoint News / Sputnik – 30th June, 2020) The Greens and the populist National Rally were the two big winners in the second round of the French municipal elections held this past Sunday, although the results were notable as a record low turnout was registered with the majority of eligible voters refusing to cast their ballot.

The first round of the municipal elections was held in March, although the next stage of voting had to be pushed back three months as a result of the ongoing coronavirus disease pandemic.

The epidemiological crisis may have prompted citizens to stay away from polling stations, as roughly 40 percent of eligible voters participated in the elections. This marks a significant drop from the 62.1 percent of voters who cast their ballot in the second round of the municipal elections in 2014, according to pollster Ipsos.

Precautionary measures were taken at France‘s polling stations, as the wearing of face masks was mandatory and voters were told to bring their own pens. However, it appears that voter apathy was the big winner in France on Sunday.

Of the political parties, the Greens (Europe Ecologie-Les Verts) made significant gains, winning in large cities such as Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Besancon, Tours, and Poitiers.

Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party also scored a major victory by claiming its first city of more than 100,000 after winning the vote in Perpignan. The party’s leader called the result a “big victory.”

One factor that helped the Greens sweep to such an impressive result was the support of other left-wing parties, such as the socialists, communists, and Jean-Luc Melenchon’s France Unbowed.

In Paris, the socialist incumbent mayor Anne Hidalgo managed to keep her seat, winning roughly 49 percent of the vote after being backed by left-wing allies. Agnes Buzyn, France‘s former Health Minister who resigned from her post to become a candidate for President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party La Republique En Marche (LREM) in the French capital, finished in third place.

Despite LREM’s poor showing, political analyst Benjamin Biard, who is based at the Socio-Political Research and Information Centre (CRISP) in Brussels, said that the Greens’ victories and the poor turnout were the two major surprises of Sunday‘s vote.

“The very high abstention was a major surprise, so was the clear victory of the Greens, who got a spectacular percentage of the very large cities, mostly in coalition with left-wing parties,” Biard told Sputnik.

LREM’s significant losses across the country could have major implications for Macron, especially as Prime Minister Edouard Philippe won the mayoral race in the city of Le Havre as a member of the Les Republicains party, Biard stated.

“Another result of this election is that Emmanuel Macron’s LREM did not manage to claim any city … Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was re-elected in his city of Le Havre with 58.8 percent, but he is not even a member of LREM. It is as a moderate from Les Republicains … that he won his comfortable victory against a communist candidate. The poor results for LREM are a great disappointment and weaken his [Macron’s] position nationally,” the political analyst said.

Biard added that the results show that Les Republicains, a party founded by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as the Socialist Party, continue to retain widespread support across the country.

The analyst also stated that the National Rally’s win in Perpignan was a major accomplishment for the party.

“For Marine Le Pen’s National Rally [RN], the good news is that Louis Aliot won the first large city for the RN, Perpignan, a city of 130,000 inhabitants, on top of other victories in smaller cities such as Moissac or Bruay-la-Buissiere in the north. The RN won fewer councilors than in 2014, so I would say their results are stable,” the political analyst remarked.

Despite the poor turnout, it appears that the results of the municipal elections have raised many questions over the future direction French politics will take.

Even before Sunday‘s vote, Macron was reportedly considering a major cabinet reshuffle in the coming weeks or months.

On Monday, the president promised 15 billion Euros ($16.9 million) in funding to aid the country’s transformation to a greener economy, and further moves could be on the horizon as the president may look to push his environmental credentials to capitalize on the wave of support received by the Greens.

Since taking office in 2017, Macron has made numerous attempts to get the Greens on side. He established the Citizens’ Convention on Climate in 2019 to gauge public opinion on ways the country can tackle climate change, and the government has also backed plans to encourage people to use bicycles instead of cars.

However, according to Gilles Lebreton, a member of the European Parliament for the National Rally party, Macron’s attempts to gain support from the Greens will likely backfire.

“Macron’s mistake is that he is running behind the Greens. It will come right back into his face like a boomerang. The Greens are in alliance nearly everywhere with a collection of leftist parties, they won’t accept Macron’s dominance anymore,” Lebreton told Sputnik.

The lawmaker added that despite receiving public support at the local level, the Greens lack a credible presidential candidate that could bring the party success on a national scale.

“The Greens are benefiting from international hype on climate change and from the national situation. But they are weak for two reasons. Firstly, they are unable to get along with each other. Secondly, they never have a good presidential candidate,” Lebreton remarked.

Additionally, the party’s migration and economic policy are likely to warn off voters in the future, the member of European Parliament said.

“When people will understand what the Greens have in mind, for example, giving documents to illegal migrants, favoring immigration, or in terms of security and their view on law and order, they will reject them,” Lebreton said.

While the Greens have found allies among other left-wing parties, they have yet to cooperate with the LREM. Whether this will change in the future remains to be seen.

The next French presidential election is not scheduled to be held until 2022, but the results of the municipal vote could give some indication of the main topics on the political agenda.

According to Thierry Mariani, who also represents National Rally in the European Parliament, the results show that his party is no longer being shut out of the country’s political scene.

“It’s first of all the end of the witchcraft trial that presents RN as the devil. The RN is now a party like the others. We have kept almost all of the cities that we held and added a few more. It is also the end of the ‘republican front’ in which all the other parties joined in the second round to oppose an RN victory. It does not work anymore,” Mariani told Sputnik.

The member of European Parliament added that LREM’s poor results at the polls could prompt Macron to think twice about holding municipal elections in 2021.

“What I fear is that after this stinging defeat, Emmanuel Macron would try to push back the date of the regional elections in 2021, which he will certainly also lose, to hold them instead after the presidential election of 2022,” Mariani remarked.

How France will look heading into the presidential election in two years’ time is unclear, although the local results suggest that it could be a head-to-head contest between the climate politics of the left and the populist right wing.

Macron, who has always stressed his centrist credentials, may be caught in the middle of these competing trends.

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