Voters in France will go to the polls Sunday in regional elections that will gauge the appeal of the country’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Her National Rally (RN) party has been repositioning itself as a more mainstream political force, less than a year before the country’s presidential elections.
The elections are being held to pick assemblies for mainland France’s 13 regions and 96 departments.
The voting will be held over two consecutive Sundays. Unless parties win over 50% of the vote in the first round, a second run-off vote will be held on June 27.
After a challenging year with lockdowns and restrictions, French President Emmanuel Macron is in a precarious situation, with his party, the Republic on the Move (LREM), not projected to win any of the 13 regions.
Far-right’s move to mainstream
Le Pen’s party is expected to win at least one region, propelling her into the national spotlight with her new, softened image. While she is not a candidate in these elections, she has campaigned as the face of the party.
“She appears less extreme in the eyes of the French, less dangerous for democracy, than she did a decade ago,” said Brice Teinturier, an analyst with pollster IPSOS.
Her party’s best chance is in southern France, around Marseille and Nice, where a former conservative minister is tipped to win even if all parties rally against him.
Le Pen is also expected to make gains around Calais in the north and Burgundy in the center, mostly due to a low voter turnout.
Uphill battle for Macron
The deindustrialized north is expected to push another Macron rival to the forefront — conservative candidate Xavier Bertrand.
A win would bolster his chances of becoming the conservatives’ presidential candidate in 2022, and cut into the president’s center-right voter base.
But some analysts say that the results of regional elections are mostly driven by local dynamics combined with a high abstention rate, and cannot be seen as a measure for the larger political picture in France.
However, the results will likely shape the narrative around Le Pen’s RN and the hit taken by Macron’s LREM.
see/mm (Reuters, AFP)
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