French people went to the polls wearing masks yesterday for the final round of municipal elections expected to yield a low voter turnout and a rebuke for the party of French President Emmanuel Macron.
The opening round was held amid high contagion anxiety on March 15 just as the COVID-19 epidemic was gaining momentum, but the second phase, scheduled for March 22, was put off after France went into lockdown.
Despite a record abstention rate of 55 percent, the first round yielded a decisive outcome in about 85 percent, or 30,000, French communes.
This means political power remained up for grabs yesterday in about 5,000 undecided municipal councils including the key centers of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse and Strasbourg.
About 16.5 million people were registered to cast a ballot, with those turning out required to wear a mask and urged to bring their own pens to minimize the risk of contagion.
Analysts expect the election will confirm that Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party — founded by the president ahead of his 2017 election win — has failed to gain a strong foothold at local level.
The party made lackluster showings in March — notably in Paris where Macron’s candidate, former French minister of health Agnes Buzyn, came third.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist, is forecast to hold on to the capital in yesterday’s vote.
Paris is buzzing with speculation that a poor showing by the LREM could see Macron announce a major Cabinet reshuffle, possibly axing French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who campaigned to be mayor of the Normandy port city of Le Havre.
Holding two executive posts is allowed under French law.
“Although Macron has done a pretty good job of managing COVID-19, he has not been rewarded by his public,” said Mujtaba Rahman, Europe managing director for the Eurasia Group risk consultancy. “A new prime minister, probably further to the left, would allow Macron to claim he is delivering on his promise to ensure the ‘second act’ of his presidency takes note of failings revealed by his handling of the COVID-19 crisis.”
With 22 months to go to the next presidential election, “Macron is also tempted to make the change because of Philippe’s soaring popularity,” Rahman said.
A poll by Harris Interactive Epoka on Friday showed that 44 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Macron, but 51 percent were positive on Philippe, a jump of 13 points for the premier in a few months.
Since her personal telephone number was posted online, Hong Kong democracy advocate and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairperson Carol Ng has received menacing calls from strangers and been bombarded with messages calling her a “cockroach.” She is not alone. A sophisticated and shady Web site called HK Leaks has ramped up its “doxxing” — where people’s personal details are published online — of Hong Kong democracy advocates, targeting those it says have broken Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Chinese Communist Party and hosted on Russia-based servers, HK Leaks has become the most prominent “doxxing”
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