PARIS — France will hold the second round of local elections on June 28, coronavirus permitting, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Friday.
While there is “no consensus” among political parties on holding the vote at the end of June, Philippe said the government’s “careful, progressive and reversible” lockdown exit plan would allow it to be held in a safe way, just as economic and social life are slowly getting back to normal.
“After weighing the pros and cons, we think that democratic life too should resume,” Philippe said at a press conference.
However, he pointed out that the decision to hold the election is “reversible” depending on whether there is a resurgence of the epidemic.
Beyond health considerations, holding the election in June instead of postponing it until later in the year would allow President Emmanuel Macron to turn the page on an election in which his La République en Marche movement performed poorly in the first round, as he looks to reset his mandate post-coronavirus.
Philippe, who is in a run-off to be mayor of Havre in the north of the country, also benefits from holding the second round sooner rather than later. His approval ratings are currently among the highest they’ve been since the beginning of his tenure. If he wins the mayoral race, it would also give him a dignified landing place if the rumors about Macron wanting to sack him turn out to be true.
The vote was originally meant to be held on March 22, but had to be postponed because of the epidemic. Macron controversially insisted the first round of the election take place on March 15, even though he imposed a nationwide lockdown a day later.
Worries about voter turnout and the election’s credibility persist. Voter turnout during the first round was historically low at 45.5 percent, compared with 63.5 percent in the 2014 local elections.
On Tuesday, Macron spoke with two dozen, mostly opposition, mayors of some of the biggest cities in France and they were almost all in favor of holding the vote on June 28.
Postponing the election beyond the summer would legally require canceling the results of the first round and starting over. The majority of mayors across the country were elected in the first round but most mayors of big cities, including Paris, are in a second round run-off.
Nevertheless, Richard Ferrand, the speaker of the lower house of parliament and an LREM heavyweight close to Macron, voiced his opposition to holding the vote at the end of June, arguing that health conditions were suboptimal for proper campaigning.
“Democracy isn’t just voting. It’s campaigns that allow debates and [they] can’t be held, because gathering of more than 10 people are not allowed, and one can’t go door-to-door with a mask on,” Ferrand said, referring to current health guidelines.
Speaking alongside Philippe, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner pointed out that while campaigning will have to be adapted to respect health guidelines, candidates would have a month to campaign, which is considerably longer than the usual five days between the two rounds.
The scientific council advising the government through the epidemic said in a written opinion on Monday that for the second round to be held, strict health guidelines needed to be enforced, including social distancing while queueing to vote, making masks and face shields compulsory for polling station staff and recommending voters wear masks.
Reintroducing postal ballots and allowing multiple proxy votes are some of the measures being considered by the government to ensure that vulnerable voters can still take part.