France’s Front National has made historic gains in town hall elections. The first national elections since François Hollande became president saw the incumbent Socialists suffer heavy losses, while the main opposition UMP failed to do as well it would have hoped.
The Front National, who have been described as far-right, won an outright majority in the municipality of Hénin-Beaumont, which has some 26,000 inhabitants, giving the party its first mayor. It also finished in first place in the major cities of Avignon, Perpignan and Béziers.
Front National leader Marine Le Pen described the results as a “breakthrough” for the anti-EU, anti-immigration party, and an end to the “bipolarisation” of French politics.
The results also bode well for May’s European Elections, where many commentators now expect the Front National to score its best ever result. Recent polls put the party in either first place, or a very close second to the main opposition UMP. The Socialists are adrift in a poor third.
These local elections will be seen as a judgement on the record of President Hollande, who is easily France’s least popular head-of-state of modern times. Disillusioned over his reputation for dithering and revelations about his private life, the French public have given him approval ratings below 20 percent in recent polls.
The main opposition conservative UMP, meanwhile, has failed to capitalise as much as it would have liked on the Socialists’ unpopularity. The Telegraph reports that former president Nicolas Sarkozy is mired in a corruption scandal in which he is alleged to have tried to get a judge to give him inside information on legal proceedings against him.
The UMP’s current leader, Jean-François Copé, is also facing allegations that he allowed a business run by friends of his to overcharge for election events, effectively cheating money out of his own party.
France uses a two-round system for elections, where if no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, the two highest-placed candidates face a run-off election one week later. The run-off votes for these local elections will take place next Sunday.