Wearing face masks, French voters return to delayed municipal elections

An election official helps a voter to cast his ballot at a polling station in Paris, on June 28, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (REUTERS) - Voters in France donned face masks to cast their ballots on Sunday (June 28) in a delayed second round of countrywide municipal elections, a mid-term test for President Emmanuel Macron and his ruling party which could fail to win a single big city.

A year ago, Mr Macron had hoped the local elections would help anchor his young party in towns and cities across France, including Paris, ahead of an anticipated 2022 re-election bid.

But more recently, presidential aides have been playing down expectations.

In the capital, the election's biggest prize, the sitting socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo is on track for a comfortable win after a shambolic campaign by Mr Macron and his La Republique en Marche (LaRem) party.

Mr Macron's first pick for Paris quit over a sex tape scandal, leaving the President's former health minister to jump in a month before the first round.

"(Agnes) Buzyn was parachuted in without knowing what she wanted to do. She had no concrete proposals," said one retired voter who gave her name as Jacqueline.

Paris is unlikely to be the only disappointment for Mr Macron.

The Greens are projected to do well in cities such as Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, sometimes in alliance with the Left, building on momentum they created in 2019's European elections.

In Perpignan, Ms Marine Le Pen's far-right party may take control of its first city with a population more than 100,000.

France pressed ahead with the first round of the municipal elections in mid-March, less than 48 hours before Mr Macron imposed one of Europe's strictest lockdowns, forcing a long delay before the second round.

In polling stations in Paris, clerks sat behind plexiglass screens wearing masks or face shields. "It's better organised than last time," said pensioner Jean de Nathan.

Mr Macron has said he will "reinvent" his presidency and present a detailed plan next month for the final two years of his mandate.

A government reshuffle is widely expected, with the biggest question mark over the future of Mr Edouard Philippe, Mr Macron's popular prime minister.

Mr Philippe is running for his old job as mayor of Le Havre.

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