French voters reject Macron candidates in local polls

French voters turned to established political parties in the delayed second round of local elections on Sunday, punishing candidates from President Emmanuel Macron’s four-year-old La République en Marche (LREM) in favour of the greens, the centre-right Les Républicains, the Socialists and the far-right.

It was a good night for Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV), the French greens, with the party building on its strong performance in last year’s European elections to wrest the cities of Lyon, Strasbourg and Bordeaux from Mr Macron and the centre-right.

In Marseille, a coalition of the left and greens led by Michèle Rubirola won the city after a quarter of a century of centre-right rule, early projections showed. 

Anne Hidalgo, Socialist mayor of Paris, claimed victory and will be re-elected after easily defeating Rachida Dati of Les Républicains and Mr Macron’s candidate Agnès Buzyn, the former health minister. 

Ms Hidalgo’s victory underlined the weakness of LREM three years after its national election victories of 2017. Its liberal, pro-Europe policies are widely supported by Parisians, but left-leaning and environmentalist members have started to drift away from Mr Macron, and its Paris campaign was marred by personality clashes and a sex scandal.

Sibeth Ndiaye, government spokeswoman, said. “There are places where our own internal divisions have led to some very disappointing scores.” 

Edouard Philippe, Mr Macron’s centre-right prime minister, scored what he called “a clear victory” over his Communist rival in his bid to become mayor of his home town of Le Havre — but he is not a member of LREM and it is not yet known whether the president will replace him to try to re-energise the government for the last two years of his mandate. 

Mr Philippe, who may have presidential ambitions of his own, will leave Le Havre, an industrial port city, in the hands of a deputy until he quits as prime minister.

Centre-right politicians maintained their dominance of small-town local governments in the two rounds of this year’s local elections, suggesting that they will continue to control the Senate as well because municipal councillors help to elect senators.

Christian Jacob, Les Républicains leader, said the party was “finding victory again” and held more than half of French towns with more than 9,000 inhabitants. 

But Louis Aliot of Marine Le Pen’s extreme-right Rassemblement National faced down a so-called “republican front” of temporary allies seeking to keep the party out of power to win the south-west city of Perpignan, the biggest municipal victory for the far-right since it took Toulon in 1995. 

Ms Le Pen boasted of the victory in a one-word statement on Twitter — “PERPIGNAN!” accompanied by an image of the French flag.

Turnout was estimated to have been an exceptionally low 40 per cent, largely because the country was about to start its coronavirus lockdown when the first round of voting was held on March 15. Sunday’s second round was supposed to have been held on March 22 but was postponed because of the pandemic.