Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo declared victory in her re-election bid as municipal elections postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic have seen a strong breakthrough from the Greens across the country.
Sunday’s voting also appears as a setback for French President Emmanuel Macron’s young centrist party, which was fielding municipal candidates for the first time and still lacks local roots across France.
Hidalgo, a Socialist, largely beat conservative candidate Rachida Dati, according to estimates based on partial results. She was first elected as Paris mayor in 2014. Her re-election would allow her to oversee the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Hidalgo is backed by the Europe Ecology-The Greens party, which gained strong influence nationwide.
Green candidates won in France’s major cities, including Marseille, Lyon, Strasbourg and Bordeaux, often taking the lead in their alliance with the weakened Socialist Party.
The second round of the municipal elections has seen a record-low turnout amid lingering worries about the pandemic.
Only 40 percent of voters cast ballots as people were required to wear masks in polling stations, maintain social distancing while in lines and carry their own pens to sign voting registers.
Poll organizers were wearing masks and gloves for protection, and in some places they were separated from voters by transparent plastic shields.
Mail-in voting is not allowed in France.
Macron expressed his “concerns” over the low turnout, “which is not very good news,” his office said.
French Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner, in charge of organizing the elections, said that “everywhere across France, health measures ... were able to be respected. That is a satisfaction.”
Sunday’s voting was meant to choose mayors and municipal councilors in about 5,000 towns and cities.
The electoral process was suspended after the first round of the nationwide municipal elections on March 15, which produced decisive outcomes in 30,000 mostly small communes.
The elections, though ostensibly focused on local concerns, are also seen as a key political indicator ahead of the 2022 French presidential election.
Macron had said he was not considering the elections as a pro or anti-government vote.
Yet a government reshuffle is expected in the coming weeks as Macron seeks a new political boost amid the economic difficulties prompted by the virus crisis.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, whose job might be threatened by the reshuffle, won a large victory in his hometown of Le Havre where he was running for mayor.
He might appoint someone else to act as mayor if he remains at the head of the government.
Recent opinion polls show that Macron’s popularity rating is hovering at about 40 percent, which is higher than from before the virus outbreak.
His party, Republic on the Move, did not have candidates in every race and in some instances was backing local politicians from the left or the right instead.
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