France holds latest round of delayed municipal elections

Five thousand towns and cities across France are holding the second round of municipal elections which had been postponed due to the country’s coronavirus outbreak, AP reports.

The voting to fill local offices in Paris and thousands of other places was suspended after the first round of the nationwide municipal elections on March 15, which produced decisive outcomes in some 30,000 other mostly small communes.

Voters are set to choose mayors and municipal councillors on Sunday at polling stations operating under strict hygiene rules. It is mandatory that voters wear face masks, use soap or hand sanitizer and maintain one meter (about three feet) of physical distance between each other in queues. They have also been told to bring their own pens to sign the register.

A person votes during municipal elections in Perpignan, France, 28 June 2020. Credit: EPA/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA

The spread of the coronavirus has slowed significantly in France in recent weeks and almost all restrictions on social and business activity were gradually lifted over the last month. France has reported nearly 200,000 confirmed cases and 29,781 deaths in the pandemic.

But the virus is still expected to hurt Sunday’s turnout, as it did in March. Only 44.7% of voters, a record low, cast ballots in the first round of the municipal elections.

The elections, though ostensibly focused on local concerns, are also seen as a key political indicator ahead of the 2022 French presidential election.

The main battleground is Paris, where the mayor is an influential figure in French politics and will oversee the 2024 Olympics. Paris mayor Annie Hidalgo, a Socialist Party member, finished in March with a strong lead ahead of conservative candidate Rachida Dati.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s three-year-old centrist party is fielding municipal candidates for the first time and still lacks local roots across France. The party, Republic on the Move, doesn’t have candidates in every race and in some instances is backing candidates from both the left and the right instead.

Current Mayor of Paris and candidate in the forthcoming 2020 mayoral elections for the socialist Party (PS) Anne Hidalgo (C) arrives to vote at the Hotel de Ville in Paris for the second round of the mayoral elections on June 28, 2020.Credit: JOEL SAGET / POOL / AFP) Photograph: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

Macron’s government has faced criticism during the pandemic over mask shortages, testing capacity and a lack of medical equipment. A government reshuffle is expected in the wake of Sunday’s elections.

Recent opinion polls show Macron’s popularity rating is hovering around 40%, which is higher than it was before the virus outbreak.

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