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Face masks and votes: French turnout in low numbers for delayed local elections

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Face masks and votes: French turnout in low numbers for delayed local elections
A woman casts a vote during municipal elections in Saint Pee sur Nivelle, southwestern France on Sunday. France is holding the second round of elections in 5,000 towns and cities where they were postponed due to the country’s coronavirus outbreak. (AP photo)

People turned out in low numbers and wearing face masks to vote on Sunday in France’s delayed second round of municipal elections, a mid-term test for President Emmanuel Macron and his ruling party, which could fail to win a single big city.

A year ago, Macron had hoped the local elections would help anchor his young centrist party in towns and cities across France, including Paris, ahead of an anticipated 2022 re-election bid.

But more recently, presidential aides have been playing down expectations.

France’s 35,000 mayors set policy on issues from urban planning to education and the environment and while local factors, typically drive voter choices, they give the electorate an opportunity to support or punish a president mid-mandate.

“We have a government that is completely disconnected from reality,’’ said Naouel, a voter in Paris’ 9th district, who said she was backing the centre-right opposition candidate.

France had pressed ahead with the first round in mid-March, less than 48 hours before Macron imposed one of Europe’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns, forcing a long delay before the second round.

The pandemic appeared to have depressed turnout.

By 5.00 p.m. (1500 GMT) only 35 per cent of voters had cast a ballot, below the 52 per cent registered at the same time in the last municipal elections in 2014, and political observers forecast a record low.

Polling stations closed at 6.00 p.m. in towns and small cities but remained open for an additional two hours in larger cities.

The first results were expected from 8.00 p.m. local time.

In polling stations in Paris, clerks wore masks or face shields, with some sitting behind plexiglass screens.

“It’s better organised than last time,’’ said pensioner Jean de Nathan.

In the capital, the elections biggest prize, the sitting socialist Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is on track for a comfortable win after a shambolic campaign by Macron and his La Republique en Marche (LaRem) party.

Paris is unlikely to be the only disappointment for Macron.

ALSO READ: Coronavirus pandemic ‘under control’ in France ― Govt adviser

The Greens could do well in cities such as Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, sometimes in alliance with the Left, building on the momentum they created in 2019’s European elections.

In Perpignan, Marine Le Pen’s far-right party may take control of its first city with a population of more than 100,000.

Macron has said he will “reinvent” his presidency and present a detailed plan next month for the final two years of his mandate.

A government reshuffle is widely expected.

The biggest question mark is over the future of Edouard Philippe, Macron’s popular Prime minister, who is running for his old job as mayor of Le Havre.


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