Marine Le Pen has suffered a set back in her bid for the French Presidency, as her party, the National Front (FN), was knocked into second place by surging support for the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) led by former President Nicholas Sarkozy. The Socialist Party, headed by current President Francoise Holland, limped into third place.
The UMP – shortly to be renamed the Republican Party – and its centrist allies secured 30 percent of the vote in the first round of elections designed to elect local councils for each of France’s 101 departements. The Socialists were able to take 20 percent, but had to rely on the second votes of a number of left wing allies to do so, making the FN’s 26 percent from a low base all the more remarkable.
The second round of voting will take place next week, when the UMP is expected to win the majority of councils, although the National Front hopes still to win control of a small number of departements. It’s strongholds are in the Vaucluse and the Var, in the Mediterranean south, and l’Aisne, Pas-de-Calais and l’Oise in the old industrial north of the country. Meanwhile the Socialists are on course to lose around 25 of the 60 departements they currently hold.
Sarkozy, who hopes to retake the Presidency, immediately ruled out any alliances between the UMP and the FN, saying “To those who voted National Front, we understand your frustrations. But this party will not solve France’s problems – it will only make them worse.”
He added that the results displayed “the deep wish of the French people for a clear change in government, starting with the county councils.”
Despite the poorer than expected result, Ms Le Pen remained upbeat about her party’s prospects, calling the result a “stinging rejection of the parties which campaigned against the people.”
“The Front National has succeeded in its bid to easily surpass in a local election its score in European elections (25 per cent),” she said. “This massive vote for the FN, which has become deeper rooted election after election, shows that the French want to regain their freedom.”
The country’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls has called on voters from across the political spectrum to “block the far-Right’s path” by voting tactically in the second round. “The far Right, even if too high, is not the first political group of France,” he said.
Bernard Sananes, head of the polling organisation CSA, commented “The National Front has done 10 points better than it did in the 2011 local elections but its progress has stalled. It seems to have reached a ceiling.”