The second round of nationwide regional elections in France on Sunday has battered both President Emmanuel Macron's La Republique en Marche and Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally party, with the latter failing to win a single one of the country's 13 mainland regions.
This comes before the face-off in next year's French presidential election between Macron and Le Pen. The defeat was particularly crushing for Le Pen, as she had portrayed the regional elections as a bellwether of her rise to power, reported the New York Times.
The National Rally has never governed a French region and Le Pen on Sunday accused every other party of forming "unnatural alliances" and "doing everything to prevent us from showing the French people our capacity to run a regional executive".
On the other hand, Stanislas Guerini, the director-general of Macron's party, said the results were "a disappointment for the presidential majority".
Meanwhile, turnout for the election was very low. Only about 33 per cent of French people voted, compared with 55.6 per cent as recently as 2015, a clear sign of disgruntlement with politics as usual and weariness after the country's long battle with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In case the next year's election doesn't go Macron's or Le Pen's way, Xavier Bertrand, a center-right presidential candidate, would be a key figure as he emerged as the chief winner of Sunday's regional polls.
Bertrand, who has already announced he will run for president next year, won the Hauts-de-France region handily, with about 53 per cent of the vote. His victory came despite strenuous efforts by Macron and Le Pen to make an impression in the region, which is Bertrand's stronghold.
"This result gives me the force to go out and meet all French people. There is one necessary condition for the recovery of our country: the re-establishment of order and respect," he said.
According to the New York Times, Bertrand remains part of their conservative family and has a visceral hatred for Le Pen's National Rally, which he insists on calling by its former name, the National Front.
For Macron, who has embarked on a nationwide tour to reconnect with the French people after the worst of the pandemic, the results suggest that his recent focus on winning right-wing votes that might have gone to Le Pen may need to be reconsidered.
Meanwhile, ahead of the next year's election, security has emerged as a primary concern of the French people after a series of Islamist terrorist attacks over the past nine months.
This has posed difficulties for a fragmented French left, which has appeared to have few answers to security concerns and no presidential candidate it can unite around. But the regional elections suggested it is far too early to dismiss the left entirely.
Last week, French voters had inflicted a major setback on the National Rally party in the first round of the country's regional elections, dashing Le Pen's hopes of turning the vote into a springboard for next year's presidential race.
According to The New York Times (NYT), Les Republicains, a centre-right party, has appeared to cement its hold on the country, positioning itself as a strong challenger to Macron, whose centrist party trailed in all regions.
Even then, Le Pen had said that the real cause of her party's poor results was the lack of voter turnout. "If you want things to change, you have to vote. Anything is possible, if you decide to do it," she said in a speech.
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