Setback for French presidential race favourites after regional losses

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The front-runners for next year’s French presidential race are being called on to explain why voters should back them after their parties failed to meet expectations in regional elections that wrapped up this weekend.

With the Interior Ministry reporting final results from the two-stage election, neither French President Emmanuel Macron’s LREM party or the National Rally (RN) of far-right perennial candidate Marine Le Pen scored a win any of the regions.

On one level, that might look like a bigger problem for Le Pen, whose RN went into the regional elections talking up its chances of claiming a leadership role in one district. However, even though there were low expectations for LREM (La Republique en Marche, or The Republic on the Move) the poor turnout shows how the national party has weak local roots.

About two-thirds of voters didn’t cast a ballot.

Le Pen will have to face her party at a conference in a week to explain the path ahead, say commentators. Questions might come about her strategy of abandoning some of the party’s more radical former policies: She no longer insists that the RN needs to pull out of the eurozone, for example.

But that could lead to criticism, for example from RN members like Jordan Bardella, who has spoken of a “missed rendezvous with the French.”

There will also be pressure on Macron to lay out a path forward. Gabriel Attal, a government spokesperson, had already said the results – in which LREM candidates were well behind – was a “disappointment.”

Both the RN and Macron’s centrist LREM instead had to make way for the centre-right Republicans. In Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azu – the party that RN had most hoped to win – the RN candidate got 42.7 per cent, while victory went to the Republicans’ Renaud Muselier, who got 57.3 per cent.

Xavier Bertrand, a Republican set to retain his seat as head of the Hauts-de-France region – and who has expressed interest in running for the presidency – said the regional elections have given him a boost.

“These results give me the strength to reach out to all French people,” he said, as final results showed him with 52.4 per cent of the vote in his district.

Along with the Republicans, traditional centre-left parties also took multiple seats in the elections.

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