Marine Le Pen’s far-right party has suffered a serious electoral blow when it failed to win a regional election in its stronghold in the south of France.
The Rassemblement National (National Rally) had pinned its last chances on taking the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region (PACA) after emerging victorious from last week’s first-round vote, although by a small margin.
However, an alliance of rival parties to form a “republican front” against the RN – including the withdrawal of the Socialist party and left-wing alliance candidate – prevented the far right taking the region.
Sunday’s result was a final bitter disappointment for the RN, which had been predicted to do well in at least five regions in the first-round vote last Sunday. In the end, the RN came first only in PACA, and then only by a narrow margin.
Exit polls suggested that the Les Républicains candidate in PACA, Renaud Muselier, had polled a convincing 56.6% of votes against the RN’s Thierry Mariani’s 43.4%.
Afterwards, Le Pen said local democracy was suffering a “profound crisis” and criticised the “unnatural alliances” made between political rivals to confound a RN victory and “prevent us from showing that we can run a region”.
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In a brief but defiant post-election speech, Le Pen added that the abstention rate showed a “discontentment” among electors that was a “major signal for all the political class and society”.
While many saw these elections as a warm-up for next year’s presidential election, neither the supposed 2022 leadership frontrunners – Emmanuel Macron or Le Pen – have been left with much to celebrate.
Abstention was again a major factor in the election. Despite appeals by politicians and the prime minister Jean Castex for voters to turn out, almost two-thirds of French electors shunned the polling stations in regional elections on Sunday.
For the first round last Sunday, there was a record 66.74% abstention. This time just under 66% of voters failed to turn out.
Political analysts said the lack of interest in the regional elections is because France had become focused on the presidential election next year and the legislative elections that follow shortly afterwards.
Philippe Ballard, who stood for the RN in the Île-de-France region, insisted the far-right party was increasing its popularity in the country and this would be played out in next year’s leadership race.
Stanislas Guerini, MP for Macron’s governing La République En Marche (LREM), admitted the results were also “a disappointment” for the governing party that failed to win a single region. “We have work to do,” he said, adding that he “rejoiced” in the fact the RN had not gained any region.
Xavier Bertrand, a former minister when Nicolas Sarkozy was president, who was reelected in the Hauts-de-France with 52.8%, saw his hopes of representing the mainstream right in next year’s presidential boosted.
This is the second election based on France’s redrawn electoral map, which saw the country’s 22 regions reduced to 13. (The first was held in December 2015, when people voted on the basis of the new regional order, which then formally took effect in January 2016.)
The main winners appeared to be the mainstream left Parti Socialiste and left-wing allies, and the centre-right Les Républicains. Both parties have been absent from the French political landscape since Macron’s centrist LREM party’s election success in 2017.
This article was amended on 29 June 2021 to make clear that there have been two elections based on France’s revamped electoral map, rather than one.