The French far right has again failed to win a single region in general elections, depriving its leader Marine Le Pen of a chance to show that her party is fit for power ahead of next year's presidential election.
The Rassemblement National (RN) had emerged victorious by a small margin in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur (PACA) in the first-round vote last week. But the party fell short in the second round Sunday, dashing Le Pen’s hope of securing a single region before the 2022 election.
"This evening, we won't win in any region because incumbents entered into unnatural alliances and did all they could to keep us out and prevent us from showing the French our capacity to lead a regional administration," Le Pen told reporters on Sunday.
Rival parties from the left to the right united in a “republican front” to keep RN out of its stronghold, including through the withdrawal of the Socialist party and left-wing alliance candidate.
Initial exit polls by IFOP and Opinionway showed the incumbent conservatives triumphing by a 10-point margin in the run-off vote in PACA.
The results raised questions over how unsuccessful Le Pen had been in offering voters a new image of her party, whose reputation has been tarnished by anti-immigration and euro-skeptic policies.
Le Pen also blamed the government for a disastrously organized vote after roughly two in every three voters abstained.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party, Republic on the Move (LREM), also did as badly as expected in the vote.
The exit polls showed that center-right or center-left lists were the winners of the vote after Macron's party, which did not exist at the time of the last regional vote in 2015, also failed to secure a single region on its own.
The results made unpalatable reading for Macron and his party, confirming its failure to put down local and regional roots despite controlling the presidency and lower house of parliament.
Macron's party has failed to establish itself at the local level and the "la macronie" wave that swept him to power revolves around the figure of the president himself.
Turnout was an estimated 35 percent, pollsters said. Observers said voters typically have little affinity with their regional administrations that are responsible for promoting economic development, transport and high schools.
Young voters were particularly unenthusiastic.
“It’s shameful,” said Suzette Lefèvre, a retiree who voted in Saint-Quentin in northern France. “Our parents fought for us for this and people aren’t following suit.”
Philippe Corbonnois, another retiree who turned out in Saint-Quentin, opined that young people "maybe don’t believe in politics.”