PARIS (Reuters) – People turned out to be in low numbers and wearing masks to vote on Sunday in the second round of the municipal elections in France, a medium-term test for President Emmanuel Macron and his ruling party who may not be able to win one big city.
A year ago Macron had hoped that local elections would help anchor his young centrist party in cities across France, including Paris, ahead of an early re-election prediction of 2022. But more recently, presidential assistants have downplayed expectations.
France’s 35,000 mayors establish a policy on issues ranging from urban planning to education and the environment, and while local factors typically guide voter choices, they offer voters the opportunity to support or punish a mid-term president.
“We have a government completely disconnected from reality,”
France continued with the first round in mid-March, less than 48 hours before Macron imposed one of the most severe coronavirus blocks in Europe, forcing a long delay before the second round.
The pandemic seemed to have a depressed turnout. By 17:00 (1500 GMT) only 35% of voters voted, below 52% registered simultaneously with the last municipal elections in 2014, and political observers predict a record low.
Polling stations are closed at 6:00 pm in cities and small towns, but it has remained open for another two hours in larger cities. The first results were expected from 20:00 local time.
In Paris polling stations, employees wore face masks or shields, with some sitting behind plexiglass screens. “It is better organized than last time,” said retired Jean de Nathan.
In the capital, the biggest electoral prize, the seated socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo is well on her way to a comfortable victory after a chaotic campaign by Macron and his party La Republique en Marche (LaRem).
Paris is unlikely to be the only disappointment for Macron.
The Greens could do well in cities like Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, sometimes in alliance with the left, taking advantage of the momentum they created in the 2019 European elections. In Perpignan, Marine Le Pen’s far-right party could take control of its first city with a population of over 100,000 inhabitants.
Macron said he would “reinvent” his presidency and present a detailed plan next month for the last two years of his term.
A government reshuffle is widely expected. The biggest question mark is about the future of Edouard Philippe, Macron’s famous prime minister, who is running for his old job as mayor of Le Havre.
Reporting by Richard Lough and Yonathan Van der Voort Editing by Peter Graff / Alex Richardson / Frances Kerry / Susan Fenton