France’s Macron gets drunk in local elections, Greens rise

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party faced a clash Sunday in municipal elections, while the Greens rose to power in several large cities.

At a bright spot for Macron, his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, won his bid to become mayor of the northern port city of Le Havre. That could lead to a government shakeup, although the French constitution allows Philippe to appoint someone else to act as mayor while he remains prime minister.

But otherwise, the vote, delayed for months by the coronavirus crisis, issued a terrible verdict for the president, who could walk out of the vote without winning a single contest in a major city, two years before facing re-election.

Exit polls showed that the Greens and their leftist allies gained control of Lyon and Marseille, and ahead in the race for the Bordeaux City Council. In Paris, the biggest prize of all, an exit poll showed Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo held on to her job after a chaotic campaign through the Macron camp.

People voted in low numbers and with masks in the second electoral round. The first round took place a few days before Macron declared a closure in March.

Partial results showed that Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National won in Perpignan, the first time that the protectionist and anti-EU party took control of a city with a population of more than 100,000 people.

“We will be able to demonstrate that we are capable of running a great city,” said Le Pen.

A year ago, Macron hoped that local elections would help anchor his young centrist party in towns and cities across France, including Paris, before a re-election bid slated for 2022. But more recently, presidential aides have been downplaying the expectations.

France’s 35,000 mayors set policies on topics ranging from urban planning to education to the environment. While local factors generally drive voter elections, they give the electorate the opportunity to support or punish a president mid-term.

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“We have a government that is completely disconnected from reality,” said Naouel, a voter in the ninth district of Paris who said he was endorsing the center-right opposition candidate.

Participation was only 40.5%, data from the interior ministry showed.

Macron has said he will “reinvent” his presidency and present a detailed plan next month for the last two years of his term.

Reports by Richard Lough and Yonathan Van der Voort Peter Graff / Alex Richardson / Frances Kerry / Susan Fenton edition

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