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Macron and Le Pen both snubbed in regional election

French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a protective face mask, looks on as he visits a factory of manufacturer Valeo in Etaples, near Le Touquet, northern France. Photo: Getty Images - Credit: POOL/AFP via Getty Images

French president Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen have both faced a crushing defeat in the nation’s regional elections.

Their respective parties, Macron’s centrist La République en Marche (LREM) and Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN), secured fewer votes than hoped and instead saw incumbent conservatives surge ahead in the first round.

An IPSOS exit poll shows the conservative Les Républicains winning 27% of the vote, followed by RN with 19%. The Greens, the Socialist Party, and Macron’s LREM are all on 11%.

The election’s first round was tainted with a record low turnout. Exit polls put abstention as low as 66%, a sharp increase from the 50% turnout recorded in 2015. Le Pen urged voters to head to the polls for the upcoming second round of the election, calling the turnout a “civic disaster”.

“After months of restrictions on your freedoms, I call on you to unlock your ideas and redress the outcome of this first round. Go to the polls,” she said. 

Voters were electing councilors for France’s 13 regions as well as for 96 départements. Parties that secure more than 10% of votes in the first round are permitted to advance to the decisive runoff on June 27. 

The candidates for LREM are now projected to receive just over 10% of the vote and therefore just enough to take part in the second round of voting next weekend. 

Aurore Bergé, an LREM spokesperson, described the result as a “democratic slap in the face,” while Le Pen has been solely blamed for her party’s poor results.

Macron’s party was not expected to do well in these elections. Last month, a minister told AFP that “these elections are never good for the party in power. You always get it in the neck.”

But, LREM still secured fewer votes than expected, failing to win any region outright signaling that the party had failed to build support at the local level. 

RN was predicted to take a significant lead in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region as the party hoped this would secure their first regional presidency. Instead, their lead was much smaller than expected, as their candidate Thierry Mariani obtained 36.38% of the vote. The incumbent president from the right-wing Les Republicains (LR) closely followed with 31.91%. Nationwide, the far-right party’s vote share decreased between eight and nine points since 2015. 

In the northern region of Hauts-de-France, the conservative and presidential hopeful Xavier Bertrand obtained 41.39% of votes, compared to 24.37 % for RN. 

In a statement, Bertrand declared triumphantly that he had “broken the jaws” of Le Pen’s party.

Ten months away from the 2022 French presidential election, critics have called these regional elections vital bellwethers to determine the national mood of the country as it emerges from over a year of being in and out of lockdowns.