PARIS, June 28 (Reuters): Voters in France donned face masks to cast their ballots on Sunday in a delayed second round of country-wide municipal elections, a mid-term test for President Emmanuel Macron and his ruling party which could fail to win a single big city.
A year ago Macron had hoped the local elections would help anchor his young centrist party in towns and cities across France, including Paris, ahead of an anticipated 2022 re-election bid. But more recently, presidential aides have been playing down expectations.
France's 35,000 mayors set policy on issues from urban planning to education and the environment and while local factors typically drive voter choices, they give the electorate an opportunity to support or punish a president mid-mandate.
"We have a government that is completely disconnected from reality," said Naouel, a voter in Paris' 9th district who said she was backing the centre-right opposition candidate.
France pressed ahead with the first round of the municipal elections in mid-March, less than 48 hours before Macron imposed one of Europe's strictest coronavirus lockdowns, forcing a long delay before the second round.
The pandemic could still depress turnout. At midday this was at 15.3%, below the 19.8% registered at the same time in 2014.
In polling stations in Paris, clerks wore masks or face shields, with some sat behind plexiglass screens. "It's better organised than last time," said pensioner Jean de Nathan.
In the capital, the election's biggest prize, the sitting socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo is on track for a comfortable win after a shambolic campaign by Macron and his La Republique en Marche (LaRem) party.
Paris is unlikely to be the only disappointment for Macron.
The Greens could to do well in cities such as Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, sometimes in alliance with the Left, building on momentum they created in 2019's European elections. In Perpignan, Marine Le Pen's far-right party may take control of its first city with a population of more than 100,000.
Macron has said he will "reinvent" his presidency and present a detailed plan next month for the final two years of his mandate.
A government reshuffle is widely expected. The biggest question mark is over the future of Edouard Philippe, Macron's popular prime minister, who is running for his old job as mayor of Le Havre.