Exit polls show Greens make big success, ruling centrists on back foot in local run-off

With a record low turnout, French voters on Sunday credited the country’s environmentalists to manage their local affairs in the final round of municipal elections, while President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party The Republic on the Move (LERM) failed to gain a strong foothold at local level.

Exit polls showed that the European Ecologists and the Greens (EELV) recorded a strong performance. They claimed victory in cities including Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Poitiers, Besancon, Annecy, Bastia and Tours.

Traditionally, one of bastions of the Republicans party, Marseille, France’s second largest city, switched to the left wing. The environmentalist Michele Rubirola, who headed a left-wing coalition, was seen winning the vote with nearly 40 percent, 10 percentage points ahead of her conservative rival Martine Vassal, according to Ipsos/Sopra Steria.

“What has won tonight is the desire for a concrete ecology, an ecology in action. It is a turning point in the political life of the country. It is the moment of ecology,” Yannick Jadot, leader of the French greens told France 2 television.

Marine Le Pen’s far-right party seized the control of Perpignan in the south, its first takeover of a city of over 100,000 inhabitants since 1995.

The anti-immigrant and protectionist party’s candidate Louis Aliot, was seen collecting 52.7 percent of the vote versus 47.3 percent for the sitting conservative mayor.

“The first message this evening is that this so-called Republican front fell in Perpignan, and tomorrow it could fall elsewhere. (The victory) is a great message for the future,” Alliot told supporters.

Exit polls suggested that Macron’s party, founded by him ahead of his 2017 election, could emerge from the local contest without winning a major city, a severe blow to the president’s plan to build a local power base ahead of 2022 presidential election.

Incumbent socialist Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo topped the vote with 49.3 percent, sending the president’s candidate Agnes Buzyn, former health minister, into a distant third place.

It wasn’t all bad for the head of state. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe won the race in northern port city of Le Havre with 58.83 percent of the vote.

Holding two executive posts is allowed under French law. But the prime minister’s mayoral victory raised questions over a possible government reshuffle, reported French media.

Citing a source close to the Elysee, France info radio reported that Macron has congratulated Philippe for the “beautiful victory” and the two men would meet on Monday morning.

The president also “expresses concern about the low turnout in municipal elections,” which he said “is not very good news for the country’s democracy.”

The turnout of Sunday’s round slumped to a record low level of 34.67 percent at 17:00 local time (1500 GMT), according to the Ministry of Interior. In 2014 local polls, 52.36 percent of eligible voters had voted.

Previously scheduled for March 22, the voting took place after the government started a gradual exit in mid-May from months-long restrictions in response to the spread of COVID-19.

On March 15 when the first round was held, 44.66 percent of some 47.7 million voters shunned the voting.