French far right beaten in regional elections: exit polls

Paris: Mainstream candidates delivered a stinging setback to France’s far right in regional elections on Sunday, thwarting its hopes of winning control of a region for the first time, according to exit polls.

The Ifop polling agency estimated that the far right National Rally barely surpassed 20% of the vote nationally, trailing both the mainstream right and the combined weight of green and leftist candidates.

Polling agencies also said that the National Rally was roundly beaten in the southeast, in the region that had been seen as its best chance of securing a breakthrough victory in the balloting for regional councils.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen leaves the voting booth. Credit:

If confirmed by official results, the National Rally’s failure to win any of mainland France’s 12 regions threatens to slow the momentum of its candidate, Marine Le Pen, in her campaign for the presidential election next year.

One of the projected winning candidates on the mainstream right, Xavier Bertrand, crowed that the National Rally wasn’t only “stopped” in his region, the Hauts-de-France in the north, but “we made it retreat greatly.”

Although focused on local issues, and marked by record-low turnout, the regional voting was closely scrutinised as a litmus test of whether the anti-immigration National Rally is gaining in acceptability before the 2022 presidential election.

National Rally leader Le Pen has spent a decade trying to cast off the extremist reputation that made the party anathema to many French voters in its previous guise as the National Front. A failure to win control of a region would suggest that Le Pen and her party remain unpalatable to many.

Voter interest was tepid, at best. Turnout nationwide was less than 30% by late afternoon. Among the few who cast ballots, some lamented that young voters, in particular, appeared to be squandering the last voting opportunity before the 2022 presidential poll.

“It’s shameful,” said Suzette Lefèvre, a retiree who voted in Saint-Quentin in northern France. “Our parents fought for us for this and people aren’t following suit.”

Philippe Corbonnois, another retiree who turned out in Saint-Quentin, opined that young people “maybe don’t believe in politics.”

AP

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