France municipal elections: Greens score gains in second round

Face masks and votes French turnout in low numbers for delayed local elections

Gains for green candidates in France's municipal elections have been hailed as a breakthrough moment for the country's ecological movement and an indictment of President Emmanuel Macron.

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives to cast his ballot during the second round of French municipal elections, in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France, June 28, 2020.

A total of 34,967 mayors and deputy mayors were elected in the first and second rounds.

Paris is a major battleground, because the mayor will oversee the 2024 Olympics.

They captured cities such as Lyon, Strasbourg and Besançon.

The party's candidate in Paris, Agnes Buzyn, was projected to come a distant third with incumbent Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo on course to easily win a second term as mayor of the French capital.

The biggest victory for the Greens, however, was in the northern city of Lille, where the party ousted former Cabinet minister Martine Aubry as mayor. Only 40 per cent of voters cast ballots as scenes at polling stations were characterised by people wearing masks and maintaining distance.

Government spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye acknowledged the party's modest result in the elections, stressing that planting local roots "is taking time".

This means political power remained up for grabs yesterday in about 5,000 undecided municipal councils including the key centres of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse and Strasbourg.

In Perpignan, Marine Le Pen's far-right party may take control of its first city with a population of more than 100,000. Le Pen said the low turnout was "astonishing" and left-wing politician Jean-Luc Melenchon said it amounted to "a civic strike".

In France's two-round electoral system, the second and final vote would normally take place a week after the first.

The second phase, originally scheduled for March 22, was postponed after France went into lockdown.

With a national death toll approaching 30,000, France has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with some voters angry over the government's failure to provide protective material like masks rapidly.

Some 16.5 million people are registered to vote, with those turning out required to wear a mask and urged to use their own pens to minimise coronavirus contagion risk.

Macron's Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, was elected mayor of the Normandy port of Le Havre, but the president's party was expected to fare poorly across the country because of his waning popularity, its lack of a strong grassroots support base and internal splits that have led to the loss of its absolute parliamentary majority.

Yet a government reshuffle is expected in the coming weeks, as Mr. Macron seeks a new political boost amid the economic difficulties prompted by the virus crisis.

Macron will on Monday hold talks with his prime minister, presidency officials said. Mail-in voting isn't allowed in France.

The election is seen by many as a test of Macron's reforms and his handling of the outbreak.

President Macron said he would support the creation of a crime of ecocide in discussions with worldwide organisations and that he is studying the possibility of introducing it into French law.

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