French local election: Green wave as Macron’s party suffers a blow

France's Greens appeared set for major gains on Sunday in local elections marked by record-low turnout and the failure of President Emmanuel Macron's ruling party to make any significant impact, news wires reported.

Projections based on early vote counts showed Europe Ecology, The Greens party (EELV), poised to take the key cities of Lyon, Bordeaux and Strasbourg and in a very close contest for Lille.

Macron expressed his concern over the high abstention rate, estimated at about 60%, and acknowledged that the elections were marked by a "green wave", the presidency said.

Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye spoke of "disappointment" over the poor showing of the centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party Macron created shortly before his successful 2017 presidential run. This is the first time it had competed in nationwide local elections.

The party's candidate in Paris, Agnes Buzyn, was projected to come a distant third with incumbent Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo on course to easily win a second term as mayor of the French capital.

Marine Le Pen's National Rally, meanwhile, claimed victory in the southern city of Perpignan, in what would be the first far-right takeover of a French city of more than 100,000 inhabitants since 1995.

The biggest coup for the Greens would be ousting former minister Martine Aubry as mayor of the northern city of Lille. But her entourage insisted to AFP that she had clung on in a knife-edge vote.

 

 

Some 16.5 million eligible voters cast ballots in nearly 5,000 cities and towns where the first round of municipal voting, on 15 March, had failed to yield a decisive outcome.

But estimates showed that only two in five voters turned up, an abstention rate that Le Pen described as "astonishing" and far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said amounted to "a civic strike". Macron said the low turnout was "not very good news," according to the Elysee.

The first election round, which took place as the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining deadly momentum, already yielded a record-low 55-percent abstention rate. The second phase, originally scheduled for 22 March, was postponed after France went into lockdown. Most restrictions have now been eased.

Macron is widely rumoured  to be preparing for a cabinet reshuffle after Sunday's results, and the future of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who won his race for mayor in the Normandy port city of Le Havre, appeared unsure. Though French law allows for the holding of two executive posts, observers expect Macron to use the occasion to axe the premier, whose popularity exceeds his own according to opinion polls.

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