Local elections underway in France as Macron braces for setback

(Update 1: Adds details throughout)

By Luis Miguel Pascual

Paris, Jun 28 (efe-epa).- Polling stations across more than 4,600 French towns opened on Sunday for the second round of delayed local elections, as President Emmanuel Macron braces for an electoral setback.

“Masks have not silenced democracy,” Stéphan Gesler, an 87-year-old retired accountant, tells Efe.

Many of his fellow citizens do not share Gesler’s unwavering conviction and have chosen not to run the risk of contagion by staying at home.

There are no queues spilling out of polling stations and data suggests a sharp drop in voter turnout.

Around 13 percent of municipalities, where in the first round on 15 March no candidate obtained more than 50 percent of votes, will elect mayors.

In the first ballot over half of eligible voters stayed at home, an unprecedented figure for local elections in France which experts attributed to fears over the coronavirus.

The government had just decreed the closure of bars and restaurants and a day after the poll ordered the home confinement of the population and delayed the second round.

Even though Covid-19 is under control, hygiene and social distancing measures have been ramped up with the mandatory use of masks and voting booths shielded by plastic screens.

Hand sanitizer dispensers are also the norm at all polling stations.

“There have been no problems, at best three or four voters have gathered this morning,” David Martin, president of a polling station in the central district 4 of the capital, jokes.

“Wearing a mask is a drawback of the current period, but you don’t vote with your mouth, you vote with your hand,” Gesler says as he deposits his vote in the ballot box.

The former accountant thinks the government was right in delaying the first round, but he believes it is important to go to the polls.

“Just maintain precautions. In this situation, there are many unanswered questions, even for doctors. It is not known where it can spread. We are all concerned and that concern will weigh on the world for a few years. But coming to vote changes nothing. Democracy may even allow us to withstand it a little better,” he says.

Philippe Bonny, who is accompanied by his wife and son, agrees with this point of view.

“It is not a problem for me to wear the mask,” he says. “It is important to vote and with these precautions, there is no problem doing so.”

Bonny thinks the pandemic should be used as an excuse to paralyze countries, especially given most have endured a months-long lockdown.

“It is important for democracy to continue, to get out of this crisis,” he adds.

“I can understand it in the elderly or at risk, but for most people, I don’t understand it,” Bonny says.

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