Record low voter turnout in first round of French regional polls
21 Juin, 2021, 19:50 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
The vote on Sunday was widely watched as the last national electoral test ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections next year which polls now show as being a close race between Le Pen and Macron.
The previous record abstentions in a first round of regional elections was in 2010 (53.7 percent), with the highest across all elections set in the 2009 European elections (59.37 percent).
On Monday, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin described the results as a form of failure, although he added it was too soon to draw conclusions for the 2022 presidential vote, Reuters reported.
Two exit polls showed Rassemblement National finishing top in Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, but with a narrower-than-expected margin over the centre right's Renaud Muselier, who had struck an alliance with Macron's party.
"Our voters didn't turn out", Le Pen said in her first comments after the vote from her stronghold of Henin-Beaumont in northern France.
She had been hoping for a strong party performance to give her momentum ahead of next year's presidential test. It is hoping to win control of a region for the first time to boost her decade-long effort to legitimize a party long seen as an anti-democratic, anti-Semitic pariah.
Sunday's polls were for seats in mainland France's 13 regions and 96 departments.
But in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region, left-wing candidate Jean-Laurent Felizia, who finished third, said he planned to stand in the run-off despite pressure to withdraw.
It is hard to predict the ultimate victor here, or elsewhere, because of the complicated electoral system and the impact of tactical voting, which usually sees mainstream parties form alliances to keep the far-right out of power.
For Le Pen's far-right, that is a drop of more than 7 percentage points nationwide compared to the last election in 2015, which came on the back of the Paris Islamist attacks.
This is the highest abstention rate under the Fifth Republic.
Meanwhile, the projected abstention rate of between 66.1 and 68.6 percent - the highest for an election since at least 1958 - led to speculation about the causes, and introspection about the health of French democracy.
It also makes it extremely hazardous to draw any conclusions about the national political picture, particularly about the presidential race next year, analysts warn.
"I can only but regret this civic disaster, which has very largely deformed the electoral reality of the country and given a misleading idea of the political forces at play", Le Pen said.
They were followed by the National Rally at 18-19%, then the Socialist Party and its allies, the Greens party, Macron's Republic on the Move and far-left France Unbowed.
Macron's ruling party did as badly as expected, with party spokesperson Aurore Berge calling it a "slap in the face".
Results might not translate into national politics when voters head to the polls again next April to choose a president.
Parties that win more than 10 percent of votes on Sunday will advance to the runoff on 27 June, unless they win outright with more than 50 percent in the first round.
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