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Now Macron gets a slap at the ballot box, as Le Pen’s presidential prospects also take a hit

Now Macron gets a slap at the ballot box, as Le Pen’s presidential prospects also take a hit
After being slapped on the campaign trail, French President Emmanuel Macron has now received a bloody nose in the regional elections. But Marine Le Pen also struggled, and a low turnout makes it hard to predict what happens next.

The French people went to the polls yesterday in the first round of voting in the country’s regional elections. Voters were electing new councils for 12 mainland regions, Corsica, and four overseas territories, as well as 96 departments. A total of 4,100 seats were up for grabs, and there were more than 15,700 candidates.

However, the elections can only be considered a failure for democracy, as most French people did not even bother to vote. Only 32% of people actually went to the polling booths, which represents the lowest turnout in an election in France since the 1950s. As I wrote last week, many political anoraks were predicting that the biggest winners of the elections would be Marine Le Pen’s National Rally. This, however, failed to materialise.

Political pundits forecast that Le Pen’s party would top the poll in about six regional elections, yet they only managed to win one, albeit the important Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region. Worrying for Le Pen, however, is that even this result was closer than expected. Her candidate secured 36% of the vote and the centre-right candidate, who is the incumbent regional president, took just under 32%. This does not bode well for this weekend’s second round of voting, when it is expected that the anti-Le Pen forces will coalesce around the incumbent.   

The mainstream media have been rejoicing at Le Pen’s failure to top the poll anywhere but the south-eastern region of France. Le Pen placed the blame on the low turnout, saying that “the results were marked by a torrential and also historic abstention of nearly 70% due to the mistrust of an electoral system, which leaves voters with the feeling that nothing can change.” Although the results were disappointing for Le Pen, they were not catastrophic, as the National Rally averaged 19% of the vote across the country.

Le Pen’s failure to make a significant breakthrough does not mask the fact that the real story of yesterday’s elections was the collapse in support for the sitting president, Emmanuel Macron, and his party. Macron’s party only managed to poll a meagre 11% and was beaten badly everywhere it stood.

Also on rt.com French interior minister calls poor regional election performance a failure for President Macron’s party

In some regions, his party did not even make the 10% threshold which allows candidates to go through to the second round of voting, which takes place this weekend. One of Macron’s MPs, Aurore Berge, described the rout as a “democratic slap in the face for all of us.” This does not bode well for Macron’s re-election prospects. If he cannot regalvanise his support anytime soon, then he is finished. With results like this, he will not even make it into the all-important second round of the presidential election, which will be a huge embarrassment for him.

The big winners in yesterday’s elections were the centre-right Les Republicains Party, which polled 29%. Now both Macron and Le Pen will be looking worriedly over their shoulders for a centre-right candidate to emerge. Who will that be? No one really knows yet, but some interesting characters are already positioning themselves to challenge for the presidency.

The individual most international audiences will have heard of is Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. Barnier has been making populist pre-campaign noises, such as halting immigration into Europe for five years. He also declared that he would make his final decision about whether to run in the autumn.

In the meantime, all focus will be on this weekend’s second round of voting. Macron’s party is clearly already out of the race and his voters will back other candidates. Le Pen’s National Rally, however, remains in contention and could spring a surprise. With turnout likely to rise, predicting what will happen next is near impossible. The only thing we can safely say is that it will be a hard-fought and bitter contest, and the results will have ramifications for the leading contenders for the presidency.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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