Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo declared victory in his reelection offer while municipal elections postponed by the coronavirus crisis saw a strong turnaround by greens across the country.
Sunday’s vote also appears to be a setback for the young centrist party of French President Emmanuel Macron, who was fielding municipal candidates for the first time and still lacks local roots in France.
Socialist Hidalgo beat the conservative candidate Rachida Dati extensively, according to estimates based on partial results. She was elected mayor of Paris for the first time in 2014. Her re-election will allow her to oversee the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Hidalgo is supported by the Europe Ecology-The Greens party, which has acquired a strong influence at national level.
Green candidates have won in major French cities including Marseille, Lyon, Strasbourg and Bordeaux, often taking the lead in their alliance with the weakened Socialist Party.
The second round of municipal elections saw a record low turnout amid persistent pandemic concerns.
Only 40 percent of the voters voted because people had to wear masks in polling stations, keep their social distances while in line and bring their pens to sign voting records.
The organizers of the poll wore masks and gloves to protect themselves and in some places they were separated from the voters by transparent plastic shields. Mail voting is not allowed in France.
Macron expressed his “concerns” about the low turnout, “which is not good news,” according to his office.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, in charge of organizing the elections, said that “everywhere in France, health measures … could be respected. This is a satisfaction”.
Sunday’s vote was to choose mayors and city councilors in around 5,000 cities.
The electoral process was suspended after the first round of the national municipal elections on March 15, which produced decisive results in 30,000 municipalities, mostly small ones. Macron’s critics say he shouldn’t have allowed the first round to continue, as it was held just as infections were exploding across Europe and only two days before France introduced extensive national blockade measures.
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The spread of coronavirus has slowed significantly in France in recent weeks and almost all restrictions on social and entrepreneurial activity have been gradually lifted over the past month. France has reported nearly 200,000 confirmed cases and 29,781 deaths in the pandemic, but experts believe that all reported data are underestimated due to limited tests and minor missed cases.
The elections, although apparently focused on local concerns, are also seen as a key political indicator in view of the French presidential election of 2022.
Macron said he did not view the election as a pro or anti-government vote.
However, a government reshuffle is expected in the coming weeks as Macron seeks a new political push amid the economic hardships caused by the virus crisis. The French authorities faced criticism during the mask shortage pandemic, testing capacity and moving forward with the first round of elections instead of imposing a blockade earlier.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, whose job could be threatened by a reshuffle, got a big win in his hometown of Le Havre, where he was candidate for mayor.
Philippe has seen his popularity increase significantly in recent weeks. He can appoint someone else as mayor if he remains head of the government.
Recent opinion polls show that Macron’s popularity rate is around 40 percent, which is higher than before the virus outbreak.
His party, Republic on the Move, had no candidates in every contest and in some cases supported local politicians from left or right instead.
Government spokesman Sibeth Ndiaye acknowledged the party’s modest outcome in the elections, stressing that planting local roots “takes time”.
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The conservative Republican party, which was the big winner of the 2014 municipal election and has a strong network of local elected officials, appears to have done well again.
The far-right anti-immigration national rally achieved a symbolic victory in the southern city of Perpignan, leading Louis Aliot to become the first party member to head a city of over 100,000.