The Irish Times view on France’s election: a bad day for frontrunners

President Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen fared badly in regional polls at the weekend

Xavier Bertrand, the centre-right leader of the Hauts-de-France region in the north of the country, was the real winner in the weekend's French local and regional elections. Bertrand, who has turned next year's presidential election into a three-horse race, took 44 per cent of the first round vote, firmly pushing aside both other main Élysée contenders, President Emmanuel Macron' s centrist La République en Marche and Marine Le Pen's far-right Rassemblement National (RN). Last time out RN had been the first-round frontrunner.

Observers warn against reading too much from the regionals into the presidential. But they can give a sense of the momentum and dynamics at play in the country's politics

The vote was to elect new councils for France’s 13 mainland and one overseas regions as well as 96 departments.

A record low turnout of 33 per cent nationally – down a full third on the last election – hit particularly hard at the Le Pen vote, down to only 19 per cent. RN came first in only one region, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, rather than the expected six. In the second round of voting next Sunday even that prize appears likely to fall to an anti-RN front, thwarting Le Pen’s ambition to secure at least one region to give credibility to her party as a real party of government.

Observers warn against reading too much from the regionals into the presidential. But they can give a sense of the momentum and dynamics at play in the country’s politics. For Macron and his La République en Marche party, whose USP was to present him as the best-placed politician to defeat the far-right – now Bertrand will seek to claim that mantle – a miserable 11 per cent reflected both lack of a grassroots organisation and the absence of high-profile local office-holders to give a regional flavour to the ruling party.

The president's outfit fell to fifth place nationally, well behind the mainstream-right Les Républicains (29 per cent) and the much-diminished Socialist Party on 16 per cent.

Bertrand, who quit Les Républicains over its failure in the last presidential election to clearly back Macron against Le Pen in the second round, is well placed between the two to take advantage of a volatile electorate.

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