French President Emmanuel Macron’s party made a disastrous showing at the country’s
key regional elections on Sunday.
Sunday’s regional polls had been billed as a dress rehearsal for next year’s presidential
election – but by 8 pm, the putative protagonists of the Elysée contest had witnessed
their respective parties falter at the polls.
Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) was hoping to lead in as many as six of
mainland France’s 13 regions, putting it on course to win its first-ever region – or more –
in the June 27 runoff.
Instead, the party topped just one contest, in the southern Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur
region, securing only a wafer-thin lead in a race it had hoped to run away with. With a
national vote share of around 19 percent, according to projections, support for RN was
nine points lower than the last regional polls in 2015.
A bitter Le Pen promptly blamed the setback on the record level of abstention, so often
her best ally. She called the low turnout “a civic disaster that deformed the electoral
reality of the country”, urging her supporters to show up for the second round.
Meanwhile, President Emmanuel Macron saw his fledgling party suffer another humbling
at the polls, a year after its dismal performance in municipal elections.
LREM performed poorly across the country, with a national vote share of just over 10
percent, according to projections. The debacle underlined how it has failed to convert five
years in power at the national level into grassroots support.
Party spokeswoman Aurore Bergé called the results a “democratic slap in the face” –
surely a more stinging blow than the smack Macron received at a public event earlier in
Sunday’s vote came on the heels of a grueling year and a half of Covid-19 lockdowns,
curfews, and other restrictions. It was meant to be centered on local concerns like
transportation, schools, and infrastructure.
However, proximity to the 2022 Elysée race meant would-be presidential hopefuls seized
on the regional campaign to test ideas and win followers.
Security issues that tend to dominate national elections played an outsized role in the
campaign, despite the fact that regional administrations have little or no policing
powers. Macron’s rivals also seized on the opportunity to denounce his government’s
handling of the pandemic.