France regional elections: Greens hope to win first region in 30 years
The French Green party stepped up campaigning in the Pays de La Loire on Friday in the hope of narrowly winning its first region in almost 30 years in the final round of elections this Sunday.
But after a record abstention rate in last week’s first round of French regional and local départmentales elections – where over 66% of voters failed to turn out across the country – traditional rightwing candidates were expected to hold on to the majority of regions.
The focus this weekend is on a few close-run races. The Greens have teamed up on a single ticket with Socialists and other leftwing parties to try to overturn the right in two key regions: Pays de la Loire in the west of France and in the greater Paris region of Île-de-France.
Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen’s far-right, anti-immigration National Rally is in the spotlight in the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur (Paca), where her candidate, Thierry Mariani, topped the poll in the first round. If the party wins control of its first ever region, it would be a political earthquake and a springboard for Le Pen’s presidential bid next spring. But the left has pulled out to leave the path clear for the mainstream rightwing candidate, Renaud Muselier, to block Le Pen’s party. Polls this week showed Muselier winning, but the race was so close it remained in the margin of error.
Le Pen’s party suffered from the massive abstention rate and a very low turnout by low-income voters and young people in the first round. It would need to reverse that in order to win Paca. Le Pen scolded her party’s supporters for the “civic disaster” and, with other far-right figures, ordered them to “Move!” during the final round.
In Pays de La Loire, the MP and engineer Matthieu Orphelin, supported by the Green party, led a week of intense campaigning after teaming up with the Socialists against the right. Orphelin is an unconventional candidate. A life-long green, he was among the politicians who jumped ship to Emmanuel Macron’s new centrist party in 2017, but he left in 2019 disappointed with the president’s record on green issues.
Orphelin said the Pays de La Loire could serve as a blueprint for getting divided leftwing parties together for next year’s presidential race. Currently the left appears strong locally in France, but is much weaker on the national stage and in the run up to the 2022 presidential race. “People want to be able to hope, they want the ecologists and left to reinvent themselves in the Pays de La Loire,” Orphelin told French TV. “People are saying what you’ve done here [uniting leftwing parties] – we want that to be done in 2022. It’s a laboratory here – there’s a breeze of optimism.” He said the final result would be very close – resting on as few as 1,000 votes.
The Pays de la Loire race has been brutal, with Orphelin making a complaint to police that campaigners for the right made homophobic remarks and gestures to him on the campaign trail. The right’s candidate, Christelle Morançais, complained that she would not accept Orphelin “talking to me like a dog”.
Morançais topped the first round vote with 34.3%. Orphelin took 18.7% and has teamed up with the Socialist candidate who took 16.3%.
In the greater Paris region of Île-de-France, the Greens have also joined up with the Socialists and the party of leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon on a single ticket to try to unseat the rightwing regional head Valérie Pécresse, who has ambitions to run for president next year.
Pécresse remains favourite and scored 35.94% in the first round. The united left ticket has around 34% of the vote and faces a very tough race. However, the speed at which the leftwing parties made a deal in the Île-de-France region gave observers hope that squabbling could be put aside in the run up to next year’s presidential. The Socialist party leader, Olivier Faure, said “hope is reborn” that France will not face the foregone conclusion of Emmanuel Macron versus Marine Le Pen in the presidential final next spring, which all polls currently predict.
The political map of France’s mainland regions could remain unchanged after Sunday’s final round if the predicted extremely low turn-out allows sitting regional heads to hold their seats.
The French right currently heads seven mainland regions and the left has five, with Corsican nationalists dominating the run-off in the Mediterranean island.
Pollsters described a mood of voter “indifference” and Macron, whose centrist party did badly in the first round, told ministers it was a “democratic warning” to re-engage people in politics.