Macron and Le Pen the big losers in French elections

Conservative Les Républicains and Socialist parties retain control of regions across France

French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, leave a polling booth equipped. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP via Getty

French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, leave a polling booth equipped. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP via Getty

 

President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) were the two biggest losers in the second and final round of France’s regional and local elections on Sunday night.

Though Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen are expected to face off again in next year’s presidential election, neither of their parties won any of the country’s 13 regional authorities.

The defeat was especially bitter for Ms Le Pen, whose far-right party had hoped to win the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. The incumbent candidate from the conservative party Les Républicains (LR), Renaud Muselier, won 57 per cent of the vote, compared with 43 per cent for the RN candidate Thierry Mariani, a former LR member. Mr Mariani symbolised Ms Le Pen’s hope of attracting voters from the mainstream right.

The RN also performed poorly in the northern Hauts-de-France region, where incumbent LR president Xavier Bertrand won 53 per cent of the vote, followed by the RN candidate Sébastien Chenu with 26 per cent. Jordan Bardella, the 25-year-old whom Ms Le Pen credits with the RN’s victory in the last European Parliament elections, came in third with 11.5 per cent in the Île-de-France (Paris) region.

Three LR candidates – Xavier Bertrand in the Hauts-de-France, Valérie Pécresse in Île-de-France and Laurent Wauquiez in Auverge-Rhône-Alpes – are seen as potential right-wing challengers to Macron next year.

Of the three, Mr Bertrand is the most serious threat to Mr Macron. Mr Bertrand said that if he were re-elected president of his region, he would not participate in LR’s presidential primary. Last night’s result “gives me the strength to go before all French people,” Mr Bertrand said.

Teary Le Pen

Ms Le Pen appeared to have tears in her eyes during a short speech to supporters. She blamed the RN’s defeat on what she called “a total absence of information, the disastrous organisation of the election by the interior ministry, the end of an interminable lockdown and disenchantment towards interim elections”. Most of all, she blamed incumbent candidates who she said made “unnatural alliances to prevent us showing the French our ability to run a regional executive”.

Stanislas Guerini, who heads Mr Macron’s party, admitted that the results were “a disappointment for the presidential majority” but credited Mr Macron’s supporters with helping to prevent the RN from taking a region. TF1 television estimated that Macron’s party won only 7 per cent of the vote nationwide.

LR, the descendant of the Gaullist party, is well-entrenched in the French countryside. Conservative incumbents kept seven regions. The Socialists, affiliated with leftist and environmentalist parties, retained five regions. Nationalists kept power in Corsica. No regions changed hands.

When he was a candidate for president in 2017, Mr Macron promised to “re-enchant” French politics, which he has clearly failed to do. The fact that only one in three French people bothered to vote on Sunday was deplored by politicians from all parties. The record high abstention rate was widely interpreted as a sign of disenchantment.

A 2015 territorial reform that reduced the number of regions from 22 to 13 is also blamed, because citizens find it difficult to identify with the new constituencies. Many voters do not seem to know what the responsibilities of regional and departmental authorities are. Though no one ever suggests changing it, the fact that all elections are held in two rounds on successive Sundays may also be a factor in voter fatigue.