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France Votes in Local Elections, Under Coronavirus Cloud

A man walks past campaign posters in Paris, March 15, 2020. (L. Bryant/VOA)

People across France voted in the first round of municipal elections Sunday — one of the few major events that authorities haven’t canceled or postponed over the coronavirus outbreak. Voters may punish President Emmanuel Macron’s young party.

French authorities have shuttered schools, restaurants and non-essential commerce across the country to help slow the coronavirus outbreak that now counts roughly 4,500 cases here. But local elections are going forward, despite criticism. Here, in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, there was a steady flow of voters entering the local city hall.

Malthilde, a mother of two, says she isn’t worried about voting —there’s just as much chance contracting coronavirus at supermarkets, which remain open. She’s more concerned about juggling a new job and her two toddlers who are now home, under the prevention measures, rather than at daycare.

German resident Andrea, who as a European Union citizen can vote in these local elections, is also unconcerned about getting infected.

“I voted here without any problems, said Andrea. "They have upstairs, at any desk, you have disinfectant, and there is no problem at all to vote.”

Voters leaving the 11 arrondissement town hall in Paris. Lisa Bryant, March 15, 2020. (L. Bryant/VOA)
Voters leaving the 11 arrondissement town hall in Paris. Lisa Bryant, March 15, 2020. (L. Bryant/VOA)

Authorities were supposed to ensure a meter space between voters, and supply soap and disinfectant products at voting booths. Voters have been told to bring their own pens to sign the voting register.

But experts nonetheless predicted lower-than-normal turnout. Parisian Jean-Michel Levy says he’s boycotting the vote over coronavirus concerns.

“I’m not going to vote, not because I’m afraid, but I think it’s really ridiculous to maintain the elections today," said Levy. "They should have postponed it.”

Analysts predict these local elections may well deliver a blow to President Macron’s relatively young La Republique en Marche party, which has yet to build strong local roots — and because of a raft of unpopular reforms his government has pushed through.

Paris is considered a key battleground, with Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo hoping to clinch a second term that would see her presiding over the 2024 Paris Olympics. The second round of voting takes place next Sunday.