France elections: Far-right National Rally fails in key regional battles

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Marine Le PenImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Marine Le Pen's National Rally had hoped to win Provence

France has held its second round of regional elections, with Marine Le Pen's far-right National Rally (RN) again failing to take power anywhere.

President Emmanuel Macron's party also suffered bad results, while the centre-right Republicans and the Socialist Party both received surprise boosts.

Turnout for Sunday's elections was at a record low, with under 35% of eligible voters casting their ballots.

It comes ahead of French presidential elections due in April next year.

Mr Macron's centrist La République En Marche (LREM) party, which performed badly in the first round of regional elections last week, also failed to win control of any region.

It was the first time President Macron's party had taken part in regional elections, as it did not exist the last time they were held in 2015.

Sunday's results are a blow to Ms Le Pen, who had hoped Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur would be her party's first regional victory as she seeks to boost her presidential hopes for 2022.

But in Provence, the hotly tipped RN candidate Thierry Mariani lost to Republican Renaud Muselier.

"Tonight we have chosen the fate of a free region," Mr Muselier tweeted. Left-wing candidates withdrew from the race in the region to help him defeat rival Mr Mariani.

Ms Le Pen accused her rivals of forming "unnatural alliances" to block her and her party from power.

"[They] did all they could to keep us out and prevent us from showing the French our capacity to lead a regional administration," she told supporters.

The Hauts-de-France region around Calais in the north had also been earmarked as a potential gain for Ms Le Pen's RN, but was won by conservative Xavier Bertrand.

"The far-right has been stopped in its tracks and we have pushed it back sharply," he told his supporters after the polls closed.

Mr Bertrand's win will boost his prospects at becoming the Republican candidate in next year's presidential election.

Almost all of the incumbent regional presidents who ran again, whether left or right, were winners in Sunday's vote.

As with the first round of regional elections last week, voter numbers were at record lows.

When polls opened for voting last Sunday, almost 90% of the country's youngest voters failed to show up.

Abstention rates were only slightly lower for voters under 35.

A big disappointment for Le Pen

President Macron's party was already sidelined in these elections after its poor showing in the first round.

Marine Le Pen's also scored badly last Sunday, but she at least had hopes of picking up one region - which would have been a first and a boost for her presidential bid.

It didn't happen - once again her voters stayed away from the polls - and overall these elections have been a big disappointment for the hard right.

The winners are the mainstream right whose candidates held on easily to the regions they already controlled. One of them the former minister Xavier Bertrand, whose fief is the northern Hauts-de-France region, is now openly a candidate for the presidency next year.