France’s regional election results led some observers to suggest the 2022 presidential race is now more open, with a duel between President Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen no longer a foregone conclusion. The parties of Macron and Le Pen both suffered major setbacks, with the ruling Republic on the Move (LREM) clobbered in both rounds of voting and the far-right National Rally (RN) failing in its aim to win a region for the first time. AFP looks at the potential challengers to Macron amid an increasingly crowded field — especially on the right — for elections that are expected in AprilMay next year.

Macron has yet to officially declare his candidacy for a second term but it would be a sensation were he not to stand, despite occasional enigmatic pronouncements that nothing should be taken for granted. Marine Le Pen Le Pen has already thrown her hat in the ring and will be setting her sights higher than her 2017 performance when she made it to the run-off second round but was trounced by Macron. Macron appears to have highlighted Le Pen as his main rival, shifting his own policies to the right in a bid to outflank her. But the regional elections were a major disappointment for her party, with hopes of capturing several regions for the first time dashed by the reality that it failed to win a single one. Should she fail to inspire, other far-right challengers, such as the controversial TV pundit Eric Zemmour, could even emerge.

“Brought to a halt,” headlined Le Parisien daily. “The RN failed,” said the left-wing Liberation. – Xavier Bertrand One of the big winners of the regional election was heavyweight right-wing former minister Bertrand, who easily held on to the northeastern Hauts-de-France region. Bertrand has already confirmed he will stand in the presidential election, although not for the main right-wing faction The Republicans (LR). Bertrand indicated the regional win would be a springboard for his presidential campaign: “This result gives me the strength to go out and meet all the French,” he declared. Jean-Luc Melenchon The leader of the far-left France Unbowed (LFI) party has been fast into the starting blocks and declared his candidacy months ago. But he will likely struggle to match his effort from the 2017 edition where he was a major factor in the campaign and polled almost 20 percent in the first round.

Michel Barnier Barnier, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator, has not yet confirmed an intention to stand as another rightwing candidate but has dropped heavy hints he is eager. Barnier won Europe-wide admiration for his deft handling of the difficult Brexit talks although it remains to be seen if he could transfer these skills to the roughand-tumble of a campaign. Edouard Philippe Macron’s first prime minister Philippe, jettisoned last year after reportedly becoming too popular for his own good, is another figure on the right playing his cards close to his chest. “I want no-one to doubt neither my loyalty, my liberty nor my desire to serve the country,” said the mayor of the northern port of Le Havre in early April. Anne Hidalgo France’s Socialists have floundered since the one-term (2012-2017) presidency of Francois Hollande, who ended up so unpopular that he did not even try to seek a second mandate.

One saviour could be Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who indicated this month she is actively exploring a bid to become France’s first woman president and restore public trust in politicians. Valerie Pecresse Along with Bertrand, the other big individual winner Sunday night on the right was Pecresse, who enjoyed a solid victory in the Ile-de-France region which includes Paris. Former minister Pecresse, who leads her own right-wing party Libres, said she will decide this summer on a possible presidential run. The Greens Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV) party are to hold a primary in September to choose their candidate, with the nomination set to go to either former Greenpeace campaigner Yannick Jadot, Grenoble Mayor Eric Piolle or former deputy party chief Sandrine Rousseau. Whoever wins, their task will be to transfer the dazzling success the Greens enjoyed in 2020 local

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