Last Chance to Hear From French Voters Before Macron’s Reelection Push
(Bloomberg) -- The final round of the French regional election on Sunday will be the last nationwide poll before voters decide next year whether to give President Emmanuel Macron a second term.
The French will be choosing 13 new metropolitan regional councils and the first exit polls due at 8 p.m. local. The idiosyncrasies of local politics mean there most likely won’t be a clear signal about who’ll end up in the Elysee presidential palace. But it’s still a chance to take the pulse of the electorate.
Here’s a look at who the winners and losers are likely to be:
Emmanuel Macron: Loser
The president’s party fared poorly in the first round and isn’t expected to win any region on its own, a repeat of last year’s failure to secure any major cities in the municipal elections. The dismal showing could discourage grass roots supporters who the president will need to knock at doors and hand out leaflets next year and it’s unlikely to boost the morale of the party members he’ll need to help drive the presidential campaign.
Not having a strong local base didn’t prevent Macron from winning the top job in 2017. In France, the president’s personality matters more than anything else, and so the regional setback probably won’t hurt his chances of securing a second term too much.
The Old Center-Right: Winners
The Republicans did best nationally overall during the first round. They are the main opposition group in the National Assembly and dominate the Senate. Former Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac were both Republicans, and many had predicted the party’s 2017 presidential candidate — Francois Fillon — would also clinch the top job. But his campaign was derailed by corruption allegations and Macron’s subsequent victory sent the party into a tail spin it’s been struggling to control ever since. The first round of the regional elections showed that the Republicans are potentially stronger than many had imagined: They look set to keep control of seven of the regions they already dominated, and could even win more.
The Republicans still have some problems to iron out though. As their leaders deliberate over who should head their presidential election, rivals from outside the party, including former members Xavier Bertrand and Valerie Pecresse, are emerging as potential candidates who could seize the center-right vote.
The Left: Winners
Left-wing parties — including the Socialists and the far-left France Unbowed party of Jean-Luc Melenchon as well as the greens — fared second best during the first round and look set to sweep into power in the symbolic Paris region. The left’s good results last week came as a surprise in a country where polls suggest the electorate is moving toward the right. If that run continues, they could encourage left-wing and green parties to agree on a common candidate to field in April 2022. Julien Bayou, the leader of Europe-Ecology The Greens has emerged as strong candidate. Others are: Melenchon, Anne Hidalgo, the socialist mayor of Paris and Yannick Jadot, a green member of European parliament.
French Democracy: Loser
Turnout was a record low for the first round on June 20. Two thirds of voters didn’t bother to show up and the highest abstention rates were among the young. That’s despite the fact that regions are in charge of key every day issues, like education and transport. Leaders from across the political spectrum implored voters to show up for the run-off — but it’s not clear whether it’ll have much effect. Pollsters and analysts say France is suffering from apathy, and not voting is becoming the new way of expressing unhappiness with the focus of debates and politicians. They also contend that President Emmanuel Macron is at least partly to blame, because he pushed the two-party system to the brink with his centrist run in 2017, creating an unstable landscape in which the electorate doesn’t identify with parties like it used to.
Marine Le Pen: ?????
Le Pen’s far-right National Rally movement was supposed to do exceptionally well during this election. Polls showed it would take about half the regions up for grabs, but it only got about 19% overall in the first round. That’s almost 10 percentage points behind its score in the last regional vote when it tapped into the widespread anger at an Islamist terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
For the final round, some parties have said they’ll uphold “the Republican Front,” and withdraw from the race to avoid splitting the anti-Le Pen vote in an effort to ensure the far-right doesn’t win. Pollsters have also suggested that disenchanted voters are more inclined to abstain than back Le Pen these days. Her popular lieutenant Thierry Mariani looks her best hope of taking control of a region for the first time. That could give her presidential campaign the momentum it’s so far lacked, and help her convince the French that she can be trusted in power.
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