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ELECTIONS

Meet the ‘crocodile’: France’s youngest mayor

At the age of 22 most young Frenchmen are still wondering what to do with their lives, but not the self-titled political 'crocodile', Robin Reda. Hailed as a political genius by some of the Right's top politicians, Reda has just been elected France’s youngest mayor.

Meet the 'crocodile': France's youngest mayor
France's youngest is just 22 years old. Photo: Betrand Guay

Who is Robin Reda?

He became France’s youngest elected mayor after his centre-right UMP party pulled in 52.6 percent of the vote last Sunday in the Parisian suburb of Juvisy. Since Sunday the laurels have flowed in from every direction, including from former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who personally called to say, “You did better than me!”

How’d he do it?

Reda has been obsessed with politics since he was a child. While other French boys might have had posters of footballers or top models tacked onto their bedroom walls, Reda’s room was adorned with the images of the members of former President Jacques Chirac’s cabinet.

As a precocious 11-year-old he remembers feeling moved enough by the 2002 presidential election to shout ‘Vote Chirac’ as he walked to the polling station with his mum and dad. By the time he was 15 he was a volunteer in local politics handing out campaign flyers and sticking up electoral posters.

He also has had the fortune of running for election at a historically bad moment for the Left. Though Juvisy was under the control of leftist politicians for the past four decades, its voters like millions across France are disgusted with the Socialists government’s inability to fix France’s economy. As a result they voted for right or far right candidates

Can someone Reda’s age really run a French town?

He hasn’t graduated from college yet, but he plans on devoting a mere two half-days per week to his studies at France’s prestigious Scienes Po university from now on. The rest of his time will go to the business of Juvisy and its 15,000 residents.

Some of France’s best-known right wingers are also thoroughly convinced of his abilities. Paris Mayor candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, better known as NKM, told French daily Le Parisien he’s got a bright future.

“He’s exceptionally gifted in politics and a great guy. He has an exuberant side, almost extroverted that impresses me,” Kosciusko-Morizet said. “But behind that he is precise, methodical and talented. He’ll go far.”

Reda was always confident the voters would look past his age.

“Youth is a flaw that never lasts very long…the voters spoke clearly, age isn’t a problem for them. We were able to convince them with our platform and our energy," he told Le Parisien.

What does he believe in?

He considers himself a moderate, who was inspired by Sarkozy's rise. Yet he told AFP he feels closer to people like NKM, who are slightly out of the of the usual UMP box. As he describes it, Reda is on the Right but concerned with social issues and he seeks to represent the most number of voters possible.

He also seems to embrace some issues that have been landmines for the Right. For example, on Saturday, when his mayorship becomes official with a city council vote, he is to perform his first marriage and it will be to a gay couple. "Each to his own,” he told AFP.

He plans to focus on public safety, a UMP core issue, and the renovation of the Juvisy’s rail hub, which sees some 60,000 commuters per day.

Surely he's a little nervous?

He admits he’s a “little apprehensive” for what’s to come, though he says he’s ready, and after all “he’d run for mayor to win”. 

He is certain however to rub shoulders with some big fish while doing his work. Reda says he’s confident, “They will have to pay attention to a new crocodile.”

But he adds, “Though for the moment I’m just a Haribo (candy) crocodile.”

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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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