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France's Macron takes drubbing in local elections, Greens surge

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party faced a drubbing on Sunday in municipal elections, while the Greens surged into power in several big cities.

In a rare bright spot for Macron, his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, won his bid to become mayor of the northern port city of Le Havre. That could lead to a government reshuffle, although the French constitution allows Philippe to name someone else to act as mayor while he remains prime minister.

But otherwise the vote – delayed for months by the coronavirus crisis – delivered a dire verdict for the president, who could emerge from the vote without winning a single contest in a major city, two years before he faces re-election.

Exit polls showed the Greens and their leftist allies winning control of Lyon and Marseille, and ahead in the race for Bordeaux City Hall. In Paris, the biggest prize of all, an exit poll showed Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo holding on to her job after a shambolic campaign by Macron’s camp.

People voted in low numbers and wearing face masks in the second round election. The first round was held just days before Macron declared a lockdown in March.

Partial results showed Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally) winning in Perpignan, the first time the protectionist, anti-EU party has taken control of a town with a population of more than 100,000 people.

“We shall be able to demonstrate that we are capable of running a big town,” said Le Pen.

A year ago Macron had hoped the local elections would help anchor his young centrist party in towns and cities across France, including Paris, ahead of an anticipated 2022 re-election bid. But more recently, presidential aides have been playing down expectations.

France’s 35,000 mayors set policy on issues from urban planning to education and the environment. While local factors typically drive voter choices, they give the electorate an opportunity to support or punish a president mid-mandate.

“We have a government that is completely disconnected from reality,” said Naouel, a voter in Paris’ 9th district who said she was backing the centre-right opposition candidate.

Turnout was just 40.5%, interior ministry data showed.

Macron has said he will “reinvent” his presidency and present a detailed plan next month for the final two years of his mandate.

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