Exit polls say Le Pen’s far-right RN was defeated in the key southern battleground of Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur.
Projections point to another good night for the traditional right-wing Les Républicains as well as the Socialist Party, who are expected to hold on to several regions.
At 28 percent, turnout was up very slightly at 5pm compared to the first round on June 20, though it remained well below previous elections.
Further ‘disappointment’ for Macron party
The runoff results are another blow for Macron and his LREM party, confirming its failure to put down local and regional roots despite controlling the presidency and lower house of parliament.
France’s ruling party is estimated to have taken just seven percent of the votes nationwide, having already been knocked out of several races in the first round. LREM chief Stanislas Guerini admitted the elections marked a “disappointment for the presidential majority”.
The dismal result – coupled with the extraordinary rate of abstention among French youths in particular – marks a bruising defeat for a party that had pledged to revolutionise and rejuvenate French politics.
It also signals a personal setback for Macron, who famously touted the role of “lead climbers” in helping others to the top.
Macron had spent much of June touring the country in what was effectively an election campaign in all but name. He had hoped his recent bump in popularity, aided by France’s faster-than-expected exit from lockdown, would rub off on his party.
Experts have cautioned against attempts to extrapolate too much from a local election marred by such high abstention. Next year’s presidential contest will be a whole different matter. However, Sunday’s vote does beg the question of whether LREM will be of any help to Macron if, as expected, he bids for a second term in office — and whether the party will survive once he has left the Elysée Palace.
Le Pen party left with ‘no room to prosper’
Victorious candidates from the mainstream right — some of whom have campaigned on hardline platforms focused on security issues that are not prerogatives of French regions — are celebrating victory over Le Pen’s far right, claiming to have delivered painful blows to her anti-immigration party.
In the northern Hauts-de-France, Xavier Bertrand crowed that the National Rally was not only “stopped” in his region, but “made to retreat greatly”. Another projected winner on the right, Laurent Wauquiez, said the far right had been left “no room to prosper” in his region, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
Although focused on local issues, and marked by record-low turnout, the regional elections will no doubt be scrutinised as a test of whether the National Rally is gaining in acceptability after Le Pen’s decade-long attempts to cast off the extremist reputation that repelled many French voters in its previous guise as the National Front.