France’s ruling Socialist Party has taken a drubbing in the French local elections, losing control of around half of its departements including left wing strongholds such as Correze, President Hollande’s home ground. Hollande’s presidential prospects are now looking gloomy, with one adviser conceding that he may not even survive the first round of voting in 2017.
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) won a quarter of the 4,108 council seats up for grabs, has branded Hollande’s rule over the past three years a “massive failure”. The UMP, in coalition with it’s centrist allies, have now taken control of around two thirds of the departements in France, up from 41 before the elections.
“Tonight the Republican right and the center have clearly won these departmental elections. Never before in the Fifth Republic has our political family achieved such a result,” Sarkozy told his party’s supporters.
“Through this vote the French public has massively rejected the policies of François Hollande and his government,” he added. “A new era is starting. Hope is reborn for France. The road will be long and hard, but change is coming and nothing can stop it.”
Meanwhile France’s Front National (FN) did not to as well as pre-election polling suggested, but their leader Marine Le Pen was nevertheless jubilant about the 62 seats that her party did secure. This is up from just two previously, with Le Pen hailing the result as a “massive success” The FN now has representation on more than 40 of the 101 departements, giving them a wide platform from which Le Pen can launch her Presidential bid in two years time.
“This massive vote for the National Front that is taking root in election after election shows that the French want to rediscover their freedom,” she said. “Send home those who have brought France to her knees, and bring a new political generation to power.”
Last year the FN topped the French polls in the European elections, winning 24 of the 74 French seats available in the European Parliament; they also sent two representatives to the Senate, France’s upper house, and took control of a dozen municipalities in local elections last year.
Bernard Sananes, head of the polling organization CSA, told BFMTV: “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,”
Mme Le Pen, commenting on the result, said that the mainstream parties are conspiring against the Front National.
The Socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls, said: “The very high – too high – score of the far-right represents, more than ever, a challenge to all republicans. “And that “far-right gains in local elections are a sign of lasting change in the French political system,” which all the parties were going to have to take lessons from.
But Mme Le Pen in turn called on Mr Valls to resign, saying that her anti-EU party had a huge role to play in France’s future.
Thanks to the failure of their socialist policies, Mr Valls and Mr Hollande are likely to be out of power at the next general election. Gilles Finchelstein, a political strategist close to the Socialists has told L’Express magazine “The left is in danger of dying [and] risks becoming nothing more than a residual political force,” whilst a Presidential Advisor has told AFP “Everyone in the [Elysee] is scared [Hollande] will be eliminated in the first round in 2017.”