What's at stake in France's regional election first round?

·2 min read

French voters are called to the polls on Sunday in the first round of regional elections. With abstention predicted to reach a record high, the big question centres on the relative performances of the major political parties, with all eyes on next year's presidential and parliamentary races.

These elections are for seats on France's 14 regional councils and 101 of the nation's departmental administrations.

At stake are control of spending on such things as secondary schools, local transport and bin collection.

Perhaps more significantly, voting patterns over the next two weekends will be scrutinised with a view to predicting the balance of power going into the presidential and parliamentary elections due in 2022.

Traditionally, the governing majority does badly in regional polls, many voters taking the opportunity to tell the powers-that-be that they are none too happy with the way the country is being run.

Parties at the extremes of the political spectrum, particularly the far-right National Rally (RN), also tend to do well with getting their supporters to show up and cast a ballot.

To date, the RN has never won control of a region, mainly thanks to voting pacts between the mainstream parties of the left and right to keep the nationalists out.

Uncertainty

This time, however, the political landscape is harder to read. And the stakes are higher.

The Socialist Party has become virtually invisible. The mainstream right-wing Républicains are divided in their attitudes to the populist rhetoric that has seen RN leader Marine Le Pen make huge electoral strides in recent years.

The ruling Republic on the Move party of Emmanuel Macron did not exist at the time of the last regional polls in 2015, and has yet to establish significant local influence.

So it is very difficult to imagine the terms of any inter-party horse-trading between the two rounds. Especially if Le Pen's RN candidates live up to their status as favourites in many constituencies.

The one certainty going into Sunday's first round is that very few voters will bother to cast a ballot.

The opinion polls all point the same way: between 59 and 64 percent of those questioned say they won't be voting.

Asked by the daily paper Libération to explain their refusal to participate, 44 percent said the projects proposed by the candidates were of no interest to ordinary voters, 42 percent said they were fed up with politics, and 37 percent saying they wanted to let the uncomprehending political elite know that they were tired of being ignored.

The second round will take place a week later on Sunday 27 June.

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