More than two in three French people stayed away from polling stations on Sunday in the first round of regional elections – a record abstention rate predicted at between 66.5 and 68.6 percent, according to initial estimates. The vote is seen as a dress rehearsal for next year’s presidential election.
Some 48 million French people were eligible to elect their regional and departmental advisers for the next six years.
The previous record abstentions in a first round of regional elections was in 2010 (53.7 percent), with the highest across all elections set in the 2009 European elections (59.37 percent). A 24 September 2000 referendum set the absolute record under the Fifth Republic, with 69.8 percent snubbing the ballot.
The regional vote, which was delayed due to Covid-19, will choose leadership councils of France’s 13 regions, from Brittany to Burgundy to the French Riviera.
The elections 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, which is expected to be a race between incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Parties that win more than 10 percent of votes on Sunday will advance to the runoff on 27 June, unless they win outright with more than 50 percent in the first round.
Voters will also elect the leaders of France’s more than 100 departments, another layer of the country’s territorial governance system.
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Reading into regional results
Analysts caution against trying to extrapolate too much from the results that in many cases will be driven by local dynamics and a high abstention rate, limiting how much they should be seen as indicators for the larger political picture in France.
But the outcome will inevitably shape the narrative in the coming weeks, particularly with regard to the strength and electability of Le Pen, as well as the state of Macron's weakened Republic on the Move (LREM) party, which is contesting its first ever regional election.
"These elections are never good for the party in power. You always get it in the neck," a minister told AFP.
(with AP, AFP)