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    Far right falters as conservatives lead French regional vote

    PARIS (AP) — Marine Le Pen’s far-right party stumbled, French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists crashed and incumbent conservatives surged ahead in the first round of regional elections on Sunday that were dominated by security issues and a record-low turnout.

    What was meant to be a vote centred on local concerns like transportation, schools and infrastructure turned into a dress rehearsal for next year’s presidential vote, as would-be presidential hopefuls seized on the regional campaign to test ideas and win followers.

    Macron’s rivals on left and right notably denounced his government’s handling of the pandemic.

    The wrangling appeared to turn off some voters, and less than 34 per cent showed up, according to polling agencies.

    Politicians across the spectrum pleaded with the stay-at-home voters to wake up for the decisive second round June 17.

    Votes being cast at French regional elections. PHOTO: AP

    Le Pen called the low turnout “a civic disaster that deformed the electoral reality of the country, and produces a misleading vision of the current political forces”. The result is a clear setback for Le Pen’s National Rally, though it came in second place in most regions, according to early official results and polling agency projections.

    It is hoping to win control of a region for the first time to boost her decade-long effort to legitimise her party. It had been riding high in pre-election polls and had steered campaign discourse toward its favoured subjects of policing and immigration – though both are issues handled by the central government and not regional councils.

    The party dominated the first round of the last regional elections in 2015, but collapsed in the runoff as parties and voters banded together against it.

    The result is also a deep embarrassment for Macron, whose young Republic on the Move party had hoped to establish a regional foothold for the first time but failed to excite voters.

    Projections from three polling agencies show the conservative Republicans party, which currently runs seven of mainland France’s 13 regions, won the most overall votes on Sunday, at between 27 to 29 per cent.

    They were followed by the National Rally at 18 to 19 per cent, then the Socialist Party and its allies, the Greens party, Macron’s Republic on the Move and far-left France Unbowed. Early official results from each region reflected a similar breakdown.

    Parties that win more than 10 per cent of the vote advance to the runoff, which will determine the number of seats each party gets on regional councils.

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