France elects regional leaders, preps for presidential vote


PTI, Jun 20, 2021, 12:36 PM IST

Paris: Marine Le Pen’s far-right party is riding high on her tough-on-security, stop-immigration message as French voters start choosing regional leaders Sunday in an election that’s seen as a dress rehearsal for next year’s presidential vote.

President Emmanuel Macron’s young centrist party is expected to fare poorly, lacking a strong local political base and suffering from frustration at his government’s handling of the pandemic.

Turnout in Sunday’s first-round could hit a record low. Those who do show up to vote must stay masked and socially distanced and carry their own pens to sign voting registries.

The elections for leadership councils of France’s 13 regions, from Brittany to Burgundy to the French Riviera, are primarily about local issues like transportation, schools, and infrastructure. But leading politicians are using them as a platform to test ideas and win followers ahead of the April presidential election.

Le Pen and Macron are expected to dominate that race. Parties that win more than 10 per cent of the votes in Sunday’s first-round regional voting advance to the decisive runoff on June 27.

Polls suggest that Le Pen’s National Rally party may win control of one or more regions, which would be a big boost for her decade-long effort to legitimize a party long seen as an anti-democratic, anti-Semitic pariah.

A major question for the runoff is whether French voters will band together to keep the party out of power as they have in the past.

Traditional conservative party The Republicans look set to keep control of several of the seven regions it currently runs, including the all-important Paris area.

Among the strongest National Rally candidates is Thierry Mariani, running to lead the region that includes Provence, the French Riviera, and part of the Alps.

Mariani has said he wants more police and no more public funding for groups promoting individual communities, which many see as targeting Muslim associations or LGBTQ movements.

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