France holds municipal elections postponed by virus crisis

PARIS (AP) — France held the second round of municipal elections in 5,000 towns and cities yesterday that got postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, amid lingering worries about the pandemic and anger at how French President Emmanuel Macron’s government handled it.

Wearing mandatory masks, social distancing in lines and carrying their own pens to sign voting registers, French voters cast ballots to choose the mayor who will lead Paris through the 2024 Summer Olympics and to fill local offices in thousands of other places.

The voting was suspended after the first round of the nationwide municipal elections on March 15, which produced decisive outcomes in 30,000 other mostly small communes. Macron’s critics said he shouldn’t have allowed the first round to go ahead at all, since it was held just as infections were exploding across Europe and just two days before France introduced sweeping nationwide lockdown measures.

While virus fears clouded the first round of voting, some voters appeared more confident this time around.

“I didn’t go and vote the first time around because I am an elderly person and I got scared,” said Fanny Barouh, voting in a Paris school yesterday. “I’ve always voted, so I came to vote this morning and I feel more relaxed now.”

The spread of the 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.

But the virus is still expected to hurt the election turnout, as it did in March. Only 15 per cent of voters had cast ballots by noon. In the first round, a record low of 44.7 per cent of voters turned out for the whole day.

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

A woman walks past posters advertising local election candidates in Lille, northern France. PHOTO: AP