Marine Le Pen on the verge of winning the regional elections | France
France votes in the first round of regional elections which could see Marine Le Pen’s far-right party progress and become more integrated into the political stream.
In Sunday’s elections, new assemblies will be elected for the 13 regions and 96 departments of mainland France, with Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) set to win at least one region for the first time in what would be a coup major.
Le Pen is not running as a candidate, but she has led a fierce campaign ahead of next year’s presidential elections which polls show could end up being a close race between her and centrist president Emmanuel Macron.
Although far-right politicians preside over a handful of cities in France, running a region with a budget of billions of euros and powers over schools, transport and economic development would give it the kind of legitimacy Le Pen seeks , according to analysts.
“What would be great for her, and would generate some momentum in the pre-presidential campaign, would be if the National Rally won a region,” said Stéphane Zumsteeg of the Ipsos polling firm.
The region most likely to switch is the southeast of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – home to Marseille, Saint-Tropez and Cannes – where the RN is headed by Thierry Mariani, a former minister who defected from the center-right republicans. Party.
The election will take place on two consecutive Sundays, with a second round of voting on June 27 required unless parties get more than 50% in the first round.
Results in many regions will be determined by local dynamics and a high abstention rate, limiting how much they should be seen as indicators for the wider political landscape in France, analysts say.
But the outcome will inevitably shape the narrative in the weeks to come, especially when it comes to Le Pen’s strength and eligibility, as well as the state of Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party.
A survey conducted last week by the Ipsos and Sopra Steria groups showed RN candidates to be leading in six of the 13 mainland regions in the first round, meaning Sunday night’s results could suggest sizable gains for the party.
But due to the tactical anti-RN vote, they could end up losing all the second-round votes – as they did in the last election in 2015. A possible record abstention rate of up to 60% could also be a factor. major problem. postman.
“The more abstention increases, in terms of the number of votes cast, the ends of the political spectrum are the winners,” said Pierre Lefébure, political scientist at the Sorbonne University in Paris.
Antoine Bristielle, public opinion expert at the Left Jean-Jaurès Foundation, believes that the vote is likely to constitute a new step in the normalization of the once marginal far right.
“You can see that it’s not so much that the ideas of the National Rally are more popular or are more accepted by French society,” he told AFP. “It’s because the party no longer scares people enough to trigger a wave of opposition.”
Voters have largely ignored a spate of scandals that have enveloped at least half a dozen RN candidates over their past racist or anti-Semitic comments, or criminal records.
The election could also bring gains for the green party EELV, which performed well in local elections last year.