Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo declares victory after French municipal elections

Anne Hidalgo; AP News Pic

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has declared victory in her fight to win re-election in the French capital.

Ms Hidalgo, a Socialist Party member, beat conservative candidate Rachida Dati in France’s municipal elections, according to estimations based on partial results.

She was first elected as Paris mayor in 2014.

She is backed by the Europe Ecology-The Greens party, which gained strong influence nationwide.

The second round of the municipal elections, which had been postponed amid the coronavirus crisis, has seen a record low turnout amid concerns over the pandemic.

Only 40% of voters cast ballots as French voters were required to wear masks, maintain social distancing while in queues and carry their own pens to sign voting registers.

Poll organisers were wearing masks and gloves for protection, and in some places they were separated from voters by transparent plastic shields. Postal voting is not allowed in France.

Interior minister Christophe Castaner, in charge of organising the elections, said that “today, everywhere across France, health measures … were able to be respected. That is a satisfaction.” Yet he “regretted” the low turnout.

Projections from opinion polls, based on the first ballots processed, show a strong breakthrough from the Greens and their allies in many big and medium-sized cities.

The voting was suspended after the first round of the nationwide municipal elections on March 15, which produced decisive outcomes in 30,000 mostly small communes.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s critics say he should not have allowed the first round to go ahead at all, since it was held just as cases were exploding across Europe and just two days before France introduced sweeping nationwide lockdown measures.

The spread of coronavirus has slowed significantly in France in recent weeks and almost all restrictions on social and business activity have been gradually lifted over the last month.

France has reported nearly 200,000 confirmed cases and 29,781 deaths in the pandemic but experts believe all reported figures are undercounts due to limited testing and missed mild cases.

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

Mr Macron had said he was not considering the elections as a pro or anti-government vote.

Yet a government reshuffle is expected in the coming weeks, as Mr Macron seeks a new political boost amid the economic difficulties prompted by the virus crisis.

French authorities have faced criticism during the pandemic over mask shortages, testing capacity and for going ahead with the first round of elections instead of imposing a lockdown earlier.

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

Mr Macron’s three-year-old centrist party was fielding municipal candidates for the first time and still lacks local roots across France. The party, Republic on the Move, does not have candidates in every race and in some instances is backing candidates from the left or the right instead.

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