THANKS to a law on local political representation passed after the 1789 revolution, France has more than 36,000 elected mayors across the country. But the final results this evening after the second round of voting in local elections will be determined by voting in just a fraction of them. Which are the towns to look out for? And where are the critical battlegrounds for President François Hollande’s governing Socialist Party?
The most symbolic city that the Socialists hope to keep is the capital, Paris. For its all-female run-off, polls have consistently favoured the Socialist candidate, Anne Hidalgo, against her rival from the centre-right UMP party, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. But the first-round result, on March 23rd, was tighter than expected and it was NKM, as she is known, who had the broader smile that evening. After securing a deal this week with the Greens for the run-off, Ms Hidalgo is still the more likely victor, although the result is set to be close. If the Socialists were to lose Paris, this would signal a devastating defeat.
Among the other big towns that the Socialists had thought were safe, Lille (held by Martine Aubry), Lyon (Gérard Collomb) and Toulouse (Pierre Cohen) all produced a closer first-round result than anticipated. The odds are still on the Socialists to hold on to the first two, but Toulouse is worth watching closely. Its loss would also be crushing.
In some 100 other towns across France, the left looks vulnerable. For the UMP, which did better than expected in the first round, victory would be marked by capturing at least half of them. After the first-round results, the UMP and its centre-right friends already picked up 29 such towns, such as Poissy, west of Paris and home to a big Peugeot car factory. Jean-François Copé, the UMP leader, now has his sights set on a string of new conquests, including Caen, Amiens, Angers and Strasbourg.
The most headline-grabbing result, however, will be that of Marine Le Pen’s populist National Front. It is fielding candidates in some 300 communes, most of which it does not have any hope of winning. In some towns, such as Perpignan, this is because the Socialists have withdrawn their candidate after a poor first-round result as part of a tactical “republican” effort to keep the National Front from power. Even in towns where the National Front came out on top, such as Avignon, it faces a difficult three-way contest.
Yet if Ms Le Pen manages to pick up even a handful of town halls this evening, this in itself would be a historic result. The National Front already bagged one last weekend, Hénin-Beaumont, in the former mining region of northern France, where its candidate Steeve Briois was elected outright as the new mayor. Three more, and the party will have bettered its result in 1995, when it was on the ascendancy under Jean-Marie Le Pen, Ms Le Pen’s father, and grabbed three southern towns, Toulon, Orange and Marignane. Tonight, the towns to watch are Béziers, Forbach and Fréjus, where the National Front has a good chance of winning. Any more than this would be a genuine triumph for Ms Le Pen, and a thorough humiliation for Mr Hollande.