Mainstream candidates have delivered a stinging setback to France’s far-right in regional elections on Sunday, according to polling agency estimates.
he Ifop polling agency estimated that the far-right National Rally took just over 20% of the vote nationally, trailing both the mainstream right and the combined weight of green and leftist candidates.
Polling agency estimates also suggest that the National Rally was roundly beaten in the southeast, in the region that had been seen as its best chance of securing a breakthrough victory in the regional balloting.
If confirmed by official results, the National Rally’s failure to win any of mainland France’s 12 regions threatens to slow the momentum of its candidate, Marine Le Pen, in her campaign for the presidential elections next year.
One of the projected winning candidates on the mainstream right, Xavier Bertrand, claimed that the National Rally was not only “stopped” in his region, the Hauts-de-France in the north, but “we made it retreat greatly”.
Although focused on local issues, and marked by record-low turnout, the regional voting was closely scrutinised as a litmus test of whether the anti-immigration National Rally was gaining in acceptability before the 2022 presidential election.
National Rally leader Ms Le Pen has spent a decade trying to cast off the extremist reputation that made the party anathema to many French voters in its previous guise as the National Front. A failure to win control of a region would suggest that Ms Le Pen and her party remain unpalatable to many.
Voter interest was tepid, with turnout nationwide at less than 30pc by late afternoon.
A record-low turnout of 33pc in the first round of voting on June 20 proved particularly damaging for the National Rally and Ms Le Pen’s hopes of securing a regional breakthrough to bolster her 2022 presidential campaign. The party has not previously won a region.
Polls had suggested that Ms Le Pen’s party had some momentum, with legitimate ambitions to win control of leadership councils in one or more of France’s 12 mainland regions.
But the apathy last week also infected National Rally voters. Only in one region, in the southeast, did the party finish first in the first round. Its candidates elsewhere were all relegated to second place or lower, with some openly abandoning all hopes of winning in round two.
A major question in the runoff had been whether voters would band together to keep Ms Le Pen’s party out of power as they did in the past, repulsed by her anti-immigration and anti-European Union populism and the racist, anti-Semitic image that clung to the National Front, which was founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.
The party dominated the first round of the last regional elections in 2015, but also collapsed in the runoff as parties and voters joined together against it.
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