Paris elected its first female mayor on Sunday night, but the victory for socialist Anne Hidalgo was an isolated piece of good news for President François Hollande’s embattled party as the far-right Front National (FN) appeared on course to win a record number of town halls.
“I am the first woman mayor of Paris. I am aware of the challenge,” Hidalgo said in a victory speech after defeating the candidate of the conservative right, former minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.
Provisional results from Sunday’s voting showed the protectionist, anti-EU Front National party of Marine Le Pen set to take control of 11 towns across the country, easily surpassing a past record in the 1990s when it ruled in four towns.
At least 140 more towns swung from the left to mainstream opposition conservatives as voters punished Hollande for his failure to turn around the eurozone’s second-largest economy and above all to tackle an unemployment rate stuck at more than 10%.
While Hollande himself – who surveys show is the least popular leader in France’s 56-year-old Fifth Republic – will remain in power, the question is whether he will replace the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, whose government has been accused of amateurishness and of being paralysed by policy splits.
“This evening is a moment of truth. There is no getting away from it: this vote is a defeat for the government … and I take my part of the blame,” Ayrault told national television late on Sunday.
“The president will draw the lessons from this vote and he will do it in the best interests of France,” he said, without commenting on his own fate.
An exit poll by survey group BVA showed Hollande’s allies winning just 42% of the popular vote against 49% for the French right.
“The glass ceiling has been shattered,” said Le Pen, who has sought to make her party more acceptable to French voters. “No one can seriously deny this has been a huge victory for us.”
The FN now has a fresh chance to show it can be trusted with power after its attempts to run towns in the 1990s were widely judged to have exposed its failings, hurting its electoral fortunes for years afterwards.
“Clearly we are entering a new phase, the duopoly of French politics has been broken and we must reckon with a third force,” Le Pen said, referring to the fact Socialists and mainstream conservatives have long dominated French politics. Yet the FN failed to win the southern town of Avignon as it hoped, and was unlikely to secure the eastern town of Forbach, another of its key targets.
Final results showed the FN won the towns of Béziers, Le Pontet, Fréjus, Beaucaire, Le Luc, Camaret-sur-Aigues and Cogolin in the south, and Villers-Cotterêt and Hayange in the north. It already made a breakthrough in last week’s first round by winning power in the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont.
“This is the price of the brave reforms that have been undertaken,” the finance minister, Pierre Moscovici said of pension reforms and tax hikes brought in by Hollande in a bid to narrow France’s public deficit.
“We cannot, and we shall not, remain deaf to the message the French have sent us,” he told national television.
Despite the election losses, Hollande’s government has said it would persist with economic reforms and spending cuts, including a plan to phase out €30bn (£25bn) in payroll tax on companies in exchange for hiring more workers.
Presidential aides said Hollande was due to see both Ayrault and the centrist interior minister, Manuel Valls, who has come top of polls as the favourite of most French to take the premiership.
The exit polls showed that Spanish-born Hidalgo, 54, was estimated to have won, with 55% of the vote, well ahead of Kosciusko-Morizet. If her victory is confirmed in a final count, Hidalgo will succeed the popular Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë, who has run the city since 2001. Last year she told the Guardian that running Paris was “the best elected job that exists”.
The revival of the FN as the Socialists struggle takes the far-right party back up to levels last seen in 2002 when its presidential candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, knocked out his Socialist opponent in the first round of the presidential elections.
In Béziers FN candidate Robert Ménard, former head of Reporters sans frontières, obtained more than 47% of the vote. But it lost the symbolic city of Avignon, where its candidate had led the first-round vote.
Most of its successes were in the east and west of the country, in areas with high unemployment and immigration.
If there was any small consolation for the president and his administration, it was that while the centre-right UMP emerged as overall winner, the FN did not do as well as results of first-round voting last Sunday had suggested.
In the rest of the country, French voters stayed away from polling stations in record numbers for the second round of local elections.
The 38% rate of abstention in the second round of the election was seen as a direct message of disillusionment with the country’s ruling class.
Among the most symbolic losses for the governing Socialists were those of the town of Limoges, which the left had held since 1912, Saint-Etienne, which fell to a UMP candidate, Belfort, which went to the right, and Quimper in Brittany, which elected a UMP mayor.
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, spokesperson for the government, was the first to admit: “The results are bad. We hear the message that has been sent.”
Jean-Francois Copé of the UMP said the local elections were an overwhelming success for his opposition party. “It’s a blue wave … the first major victory for the UMP in a local election,” he said.
Nonna Mayer, research director at the Centre of European Studies at Sciences Po (Paris Institute of Political Science), said: “They can’t be stopped. It’s the first time the Front National has organised such an electoral dynamic in local elections.”
Mayer said the FN was benefiting from a “give them a go” attitude in France. She added: “Voters are so tired of the economic situation and they have the feeling that the left and the right have been unable to find a solution … They say we have tried everything, why not try the Front National.”
- Vienna voters deal blow to the far-right in local elections
- Opinion: Austria's far-right show their true colors
- 'We are ready': Proud Boys threaten to act and pledge allegiance to Trump after he told the far right group to 'stand back and stand by' during presidential debate
- Alito to far-right litigants: The buffet is open
- Germany: Far-right AfD congress prompts anti-racism protest
- French polls show surge in support for far-right National Front
- What's behind Germany's far-right AfD party slump in polls?
- What Will Happen to the Far Right After Trump?
- Bryant 'Corky' Messner: Millennials are far more conservative than Democrats realize -- Here's why
- Federal Judge Smacks Down Trump’s Effort to Overturn Election Result in Pennsylvania
- ‘I concede nothing, this was a rigged election’, says Donald Trump
- Macron May Need to Seek Support of Political Opponents in EU Election - Scholars
- This election showed how the Republicans' racist 'Southern Strategy' is falling apart
- Fox News Channel confronts criticism from right-of-center viewers
- Georgia completes recount of ballots and CONFIRMS Biden's victory in latest blow to Trump's election fraud claims as the President's supporters rally at state capitol
- Socialists Return to Power in Bolivia, But Evo Morales Unlikely to Serve in New Gov't, Observers Say
- Right wing think tank suggests wage cut for teachers and nurses to pay for Covid-19 crisis
- Juan Williams: Obama's dire warnings about right-wing media
- Meet Rebekah Mercer, the deep-pocketed co-founder of Parler, a controversial conservative social network
- Ousted pair Dominic Cummings and communications chief Lee Cain could be welcomed back to No 10 to work on 2024 election campaign, insiders claim
French Socialists suffer as far-right and conservatives sweep elections have 1340 words, post on www.theguardian.com at March 30, 2014. This is cached page on Talk Vietnam. If you want remove this page, please contact us.