Second round of French regional elections takes place after record low turnout

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Polls opened on Sunday in the decisive second round of voting for France’s regional elections a week after low turnout signalled voter disinterest in the election.

Turnout was at a record low 33% last week, down around 16 points from the first round in the 2015 regional elections.

At 12:00pm CET on Sunday, turnout was at 12.66%, AFP reported, which was around the same level as last week.

Many politicians and experts said it proved there was a “democratic crisis” in France’s political culture, with concerns that voters do not see a point in heading to the polls.

Those who did show up favoured traditional left and right-leaning parties, the Socialists and Republicans, as well as incumbents in France’s regions and départements.

President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche party had an extremely poor turnout last week, finishing first in no regions, while Marine Le Pen’s far-right had a poorer showing than expected, with a National Rally candidate finishing first in just one region.

The second round with be a key test for the far-right party which is hoping to win one of the country’s regions in the election.

Success for far-right?

Some expect voters could band together to prevent a far-right candidate from taking control of a region.

In Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Greens candidate Jean-Laurent Félizia has already dropped out of the second round this past week in an effort to prevent National Rally candidate Thierry Mariani from winning the region.

The Greens (EELV) European MEP Yannick Jadot told French cable news that it would be a “political error” for Félizia to not stand down to prevent the far-right candidate from winning.

Félizia wrote in a tweet on Monday that he would vote for right-wing Les Républicains candidate Renaud Muselier in the second round.

“I will, because I don’t want to see the far-right in our high school administrations. I will, because I do not want to see information guidance for young people on abortion & contraception questioned,” Félizia said.

For her part, Le Pen blamed low turnout on her party’s poor showing. The National Rally was down several points compared with 2015.

“I need you to elect Mr Mariani. For that, you have to go and vote. I need you to reverse the results of the first round,” Le Pen said on Franceinfo.

Electoral apathy

Many are concerned that the low turnout signals a crisis in France’s democratic system, with electoral “apathy” at an all time high.

Pierre Moscovici, a former left-wing economy minister and president of the Court of Auditors, said the elections showed “confusion” and “electoral apathy”.

“The French democratic crisis is profound: the presidential election address this vital issue,” he said in a tweet.

“There is an urgent need to reinvigorate representative democracy, facilitate voting procedures to encourage the mobilisation of voters,” argued left-leaning newspaper Libération’s deputy managing director Paul Quinio in an editorial.

Presidential and legislative elections typically galvanise more voters but lower turnout than expected, at 74.7%, plagued the 2017 elections as well.

Turnout for the second round of last year’s municipal elections, which took place shortly after France exited its first COVID-19 lockdown, was at around 41%.

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