Paris, March 16 (IANS) Candidates of French President Emmanuel Macron’s The Republic on the Move (LERM) party have failed to garner votes in the first-round of the municipal elections, clouding Macron’s plan to build a local power base ahead of the 2022 presidential race.

According to exit polls on Sunday night, the LERM failed to uproot the bastions long-held by socialists and conservatives in some of the largest cities, reports Xinhua news agency.

Paris remains in the hands of the Socialist Party after its candidate and the city’s incumbent Mayor, Anne Hidalgo led with 30.2 per cent of the votes, eight points ahead of her conservative rival Rachida Dati’s 22 per cent.

Former Health Minister Agnes Buzyn, who defended the LREM banner, came in third with 17 per cent.

In Marseille, the right-wing Republicans party failed to secure a fifth mandate after its candidate came in second behind the Socialist contender.

Candidate from the European Ecologists and the Greens (EELV), Gregory Doucet was placed first in Lyon, where he garnered 29 per cent of the votes, a 12-point lead over his conservative rival.

The EELV saw a surge in support in Bordeaux, a right-wing stronghold, Grenoble, Besancon and Strasbourg, suggesting a growing “green wave” was likely to sweep Europe’s second largest power.

Facing his first domestic mid-term vote challenge, Macron had bet on his anti-establishment party — which he created in 2016 — to win control of major cities to anchor power at local level, and offset losses in the rural zone where he faces fierce criticism of “being out of touch” with and “doing little to the working class”.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe finished first in the port city of Le Havre, winning 43.6 per cent of the vote and consolidating his chance to win the runoff.

Culture Minister Franck Riester and Budget Minster Gerald Darmanin were re-elected with outright majority.

Voter participation is crucial and one of the deciding factors for candidates as they need to secure more than 50 per cent of the ballots to avoid a second-round. For those who cannot get 50 per cent, they need to obtain 10 per cent in the first round of vote to head to the runoff.

Voter turnout in Sunday’s first round of the municipal elections was 38.77 per cent, down from 54.54 per cent six years ago, according to figures released by the Interior Ministry.

The abstention rate was estimated at a record 56 per cent compared to 33.4 per cent in first round of the 2014 municipal election, as French voters, who traditionally tend to show less interest in polls, had further shunned elections on growing concerns of coronavirus spread.

As of Sunday, 5,423 cases of coronavirus infection were reported, up from 4,500 in one day, while 127 patients died from infection, up from 91 deaths registered on Saturday, the French Public Health announced.

The election runoff is scheduled for March 22. But many politicians called on the government to postpone the ballot due to the worsening health crisis.

–IANS

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