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ROYAL

‘Dallas comes to the Elysée’ as Royal kicked out

 

Twin rivalries – one political, the other amorous – doomed Ségolène Royal, former partner of French President François Hollande, to suffer a humiliating defeat in Sunday's legislative polls.

 

 

'Dallas comes to the Elysée' as Royal kicked out
Guillaume Paumier

Twin rivalries – one political, the other amorous – doomed Ségolène Royal, former partner of French President François Hollande, to suffer a humiliating defeat in Sunday’s legislative polls.

Conceding defeat, Royal initially kept her remarks in the political arena, bitterly slamming the “political betrayal” of Socialist dissident Olivier Falorni, who was kicked out of the party for refusing to step aside so that she could run in his fiefdom, the western city of La Rochelle.

“I can’t hide my disappointment,” the elegant and normally smiling Royal, 58, said after Falorni trounced her with 63 percent of the vote – of which she said three-quarters came from right-wing voters.

But the chattering classes – and especially the Twitterverse – will put the massive loss down to a seemingly innocuous tweet by Holland’s current partner, the 47-year-old unofficial first lady of France, Valerie Trierweiler.

In it, the glamorous journalist who began a relationship with the future president back in 2005 wished luck to Falorni, a relatively unknown politician, in his election bid.

To the French, the tweet was a zinger aimed squarely at Royal, who had shared Hollande’s life for three decades, bearing him four children and consigning Trierweiler to the shadows for years of secret love.

The message wrong-footed the Socialist party, which was set to make Royal speaker of parliament after her expected comfortable win in La Rochelle.

Royal, an MP since 1988, said on Sunday that she could have snapped up the seat in the first round a week ago if it were not for Falorni, adding in an understatement that Trierweiler’s tweet “didn’t help.”

Hollande tried to contain the damage by publicly throwing his weight behind Royal, saying she was “the only candidate of the presidential majority who can be assured of my support.”

Sunday’s defeat is the latest in a series of losses for the woman who carried the hopes of the left in a bruising 2007 presidential bid that ended in defeat by right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hollande and Royal officially split the same year.

Then in 2008, she lost a bid for the Socialist Party leadership to Martine Aubry amid allegations of vote-rigging.

And last year, she failed in the Socialist primary for this year’s presidential vote before gritting her teeth to rally behind her ex-partner out of sheer party loyalty.

“Betrayal always betrays the traitor” in the end, Royal said Sunday, adding that she planned to “continue to have an impact on national policy decisions.”

The tweet by Trierweiler, a twice-divorced mother of three who has kept her job at Paris Match magazine and has not married Hollande, added spice to an otherwise lacklustre campaign for Sunday’s runoff.

Eric Ciotti, from Sarkozy’s UMP party, declared that “vaudeville has come to the Elysee” presidential palace, while another UMP politician said “it’s ‘Dallas’ at the Elysee”, referring to the steamy US soap opera.

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ELECTIONS

Macron braces for local election blow as French voters stay away from polls

French voters abstained in their millions Sunday from a final round of municipal elections predicted to deal a blow to the party of President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron braces for local election blow as French voters stay away from polls

Amid persistent fears of coronavirus contagion, just over a third of voters had turned out by 5:00 pm, three hours before polling stations close, the interior ministry said.

The turnout rate of 34.67 percent was lower even than nine hours into the first round of voting on March 15 that was marked by a record 55-percent abstention rate.

Three polling agencies predicted participation would reach no more than 41 percent by the day's close, compared to 62.2 percent in 2014.

Polls opened for some 16.5 million eligible voters at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) in nearly 5,000 cities and towns where the first election round failed to yield a decisive outcome.

This represents about 15 percent of the country's municipal councils where power remains up for grabs, including the key cities of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, and Strasbourg. 

The opening election round was held just as the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining deadly momentum, but the second phase, originally scheduled for March 22, was postponed after France went into lockdown.

A new date was set after the government's scientific council said it was possible to hold another round safely, but voters were required to wear face masks and urged to bring their own pens to lower the contamination risk. 

Many voters and election officials sported germ-blocking plastic visors, and plexiglass screens were erected between them at several polling stations, which also provided sanitising hand gel.

“If one can go shopping, why not go vote?” said an undeterred Martine Legros, 67, who cast her ballot in Dijon in eastern France.

High toll

Analysts expect the election to 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 lacklustre showings in March — notably in Paris where Macron's candidate, former health minister Agnes Buzyn, came third.

“The problem is that the LREM is a new party that has no local roots and is struggling to impose itself as a (political) force,” analyst Jean Garrigues of the University of Orleans told AFP.

With a death toll approaching 30,000, France has been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The country went into lockdown on March 17, just two days after the first  round of municipal voting.

Most restrictions have now been eased.

Cabinet reshuffle? 

During the outbreak, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe — an unshowy technocrat — saw his popularity rise to a level higher than that of Macron, whose policies have been the target of months of protests and strikes.

Macron's critics say he is a president of the rich and out of touch with ordinary people.

Paris is buzzing with speculation that a poor showing by the LREM on Sunday could see Macron reshuffle his cabinet, possibly axing Philippe who campaigned to be mayor of the Normandy port city of Le Havre.

Holding two executive posts is allowed under French law.

Firing Philippe 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,” said Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group risk consultancy.

With just 22 months to the next presidential election, Macron's main challenger is far-right leader Marine Le Pen of the National Rally.

Despite an abysmal performance in the last national elections, France's Socialists are expected Sunday to keep key regional centres, including Paris.

There will also be close attention on the Europe Ecology – The Greens party, which has its eye on the Alpine hub of Grenoble as well as Strasbourg and Lyon.

In Marseille, leftist Michele Rubirola hopes to take France's second city from the right after a quarter of a century of control.

For Le Pen's National Rally, the big prize would be Perpignan in the south, which could become the stage for the first far-right takeover of a French city of more than 100,000 inhabitants since 1995. 

The only region of France not voting Sunday is the overseas territory of Guiana in South America, where the pandemic is deemed too active to open polling stations.

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