France elects regional leaders, preps for presidential vote

French President Emmanuel Macron’s young centrist party is expected to fare poorly.

Marine Le Pen’s far right party is riding high on her tough-on-security, stop-immigration message as French voters start choosing regional leaders on Sunday in an election that’s seen as a dress rehearsal for next year’s presidential vote.

President Emmanuel Macron’s young centrist party is expected to fare poorly, lacking a strong local political base and suffering from frustration at his government’s handling of the pandemic.

Turnout in Sunday’s first round could hit a record low. Those who do show up to vote must stay masked and socially distanced and carry their own pens to sign voting registries.

The elections for leadership councils of France’s 13 regions, from Brittany to Burgundy to the French Riviera, are primarily about local issues like transportation, schools and infrastructure. But leading politicians are using them as a platform to test ideas and win followers ahead of the April presidential election. Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Macron are expected to dominate that race.

Parties that win more than 10% of the votes in Sunday’s first-round regional voting advance to the decisive run-off June 27.

Polls suggest that Ms. Le Pen’s National Rally party may win control of one or more regions, which would be a big boost for her decade-long effort to legitimise a party long seen as an anti-democratic, anti-Semitic pariah. A major question for the run-off is whether French voters will band together to keep the party out of power as they have in the past.

Traditional conservative party The Republicans looks set to keep control of several of the seven regions it currently runs, including the all-important Paris area.

Among the strongest National Rally candidates is Thierry Mariani, running to lead the region that includes Provence, the French Riviera and part of the Alps. Mr. Mariani has said he wants more police and no more public funding for groups promoting individual communities, which many see as targeting Muslim associations or LGBTQ movements.

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