As a litmus test to see if the anti-immigration far left is becoming more acceptable before next year’s French presidential election, Sunday’s decisive second round of voting in France’s regions elections is being examined.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally has spent a decade trying get rid of the extremist reputation that made it anathema to many French voters under its former name, the National Front. The party’s failure to take control of a particular region on Sunday would be a devastating setback.
As Sunday’s election began, there were many hand sanitizer containers but few voters at the Saint-Quentin polling station. Paris voting stations, which sometimes have lines, were mostly empty except for a few elderly voters. Nationally, turnout was below 13% at midday.
The National Rally and Le Pen were particularly hurt by a record 33% turnout in the first round on June 20, which was a significant drop from the previous year. This is despite their hopes of securing a regional breakthrough that would help her 2022 presidential campaign. The party has never won a region before.
According to polls, Le Pen’s party seemed to have some momentum and legitimate ambitions to take control of the leadership councils of one or more French mainland regions.
National Rally voters were also affected by the apathy of last week. The party finished first in only one region, the southeast. The party’s other candidates were all placed in second or lower places, and some even abandoned any hopes of winning round two.
The big question in the runoff will be whether voters will unite to keep Le Pen’s party from power, as they did in the past, disillusioned by her anti-immigration, anti-European Union populism, and racist, antisemitic image she clung onto the National Front, which was founded in part by Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Although the party won the first round in 2015’s regional elections, it was defeated in the second round as voters and parties joined forces against it.
The Provence-Alpes Cote d’Azur region is where the National Rally has the best chance at a first-time regional win. Thierry Mariani is the candidate. Renaud Muselier, a conservative mainstream incumbent, is also in the race.
After the polls close at 8 pm, results are expected. Five of the 12 continental regions are currently dominated by the left, while seven are controlled by the mainstream right.