Paris’ Socialist incumbent Mayor Anne Hidalgo has been reelected, with Macron’s party losing several municipal elections to Greens party Europe Ecology (EELV) candidates.
Emmanuel Macron’s party was defeated in the Paris mayor’s race and Green Party candidates won in several other major cities, turning French local elections into a warning for the president.
The delayed runoff round of local voting was the leader’s first electoral test since the coronavirus pandemic hit hard in France, causing almost 30,000 deaths and upending his presidency. With Macron under pressure for his crisis response, the results are likely to renew attention on his pledge to “reinvent” himself and lead the post-pandemic recovery ahead of a presidential election in 2022.
While Macron, 42, won over voters in the capital in the 2017 presidential election, Socialist incumbent Mayor Anne Hidalgo was hard to beat after a series of stumbles by Macron’s campaign in Paris. Hidalgo, known for her bike-friendly push to reduce the city’s vehicle traffic and tighten speed limits, took about 49% in a three-way race, according to exit polls. Macron-backed Agnes Buzyn was running a distant third at about 14%, behind conservative candidate Rachida Dati.
Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye called the results a “disappointment,” partly blaming “internal divisions” within Macron’s 4-year-old Republic on the Move party. Macron’s plan to restart his presidency include investment in public hospitals, which struggled to treat Covid-19 patients after years of budget cuts.
It was a triumphant night for the Greens, underscoring their success in luring well-earning educated voters away from Macron. Exit polls showed them taking city halls in Lyon, France’s third-biggest city, and Bordeaux. They also won Strasbourg, defeating a local alliance between Macron’s party and the conservatives.
“A Green wave is rising in France,” Yannick Jadot, a Green member of the European Parliament, said on TF1 television.
Marine Le Pen’s nationalist Rassemblement National party won in the southern city of Perpignan, the largest conquered by the far right in more than two decades.
Sunday’s delayed second round of municipal elections took place three months after the first, which was held just before Macron announced a nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus. While the outbreak is under control in France, with hospitalizations continuing to drop and life progressively returning to normal, masks are still mandatory on public transit and in polling stations.
Turnout was estimated at a historic low of about 40%.
In Paris, Buzyn quit as health minister in the middle of the coronavirus epidemic to run for mayor after Macron’s first pick, Benjamin Griveaux, dropped out after he was caught up in a sex video. Another hiccup was the dissident candidacy of Cedric Villani, a mathematician close to the president who drained some of Buzyn’s support in the first round while failing to make the runoff.
In a sign that Macron is reaching out to Green-leaning voters, he plans to speak about possible measures to curb climate change. This comes after the leader called an assembly of citizens to make proposals to cut emissions last year. The assembly presented its proposals this month, and is now awaiting Macron’s response.
Following the delayed second round of municipal elections, the fate of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe also looks increasingly uncertain.
The former member of the conservative party won the mayorship in the northern city of Le Havre. Speculation has been running high that Philippe might resign as premier to focus on his city as Macron seeks to rejuvenate his platform in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
Around 5,000 municipalities where no mayor was elected in the first round voted on Sunday. Candidates who got more than 10% in the first round qualified for the second round.