Socialists' rout in French elections bodes well for mainstream right

President Hollande's Socialists were trounced in municipal elections where the far-right National Front saw minor gains. But the real winner may be the Socialists' rival, the center-right UMP.

Charles Platiau/Reuters
Photographers and cameramen stand in front of the Elysee Palace in Paris today. President Francois Hollande will make a televised statement on his government as early as Monday, a close ally said, as left-wingers demanded an end to pro-business reforms and budget cuts following a local poll rout for his Socialist party.

The results of municipal elections across France yesterday were a stunning loss for the ruling Socialists and a significant show of force for the extreme right.

But the party that is not stealing the headlines – the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) – could be the one that is most impacted by the local polls.

Of the cities with more than 100,000 residents, France's mainstream right-wing parties won ten cities from their counterparts on the left, leaving the right in control of 29 and the mainstream left in charge of 19, according to preliminary results.

The results are a marked switch from the last municipal races in 2008, when parties on the right won just 13 to the left's 23.

And in cities of 10,000 inhabitants or more, the Socialists, led by embattled President François Hollande, lost control of 151, while the right gained a net of 142.

Overall, the right now counts 572 cities in its column compared to 349 for the left. In 2008 it was the inverse: the right governed 433, the left 509.

“For the right, the victory is historic, undreamt of,” wrote Le Monde today, in a piece on the key takeaways from last night's second round.

While much has been said about the far-right in France, led by Marine Le Pen – in a context of extremist parties gaining ground across Europe and poised to win big in European elections in May – the results show that it is the party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy that is best poised to take over the country in the next presidential elections in 2017.

“This is a real blue wave," declared a joyous Jean-François Copé, leader of the UMP, referring to his party’s color.

The Socialists will be forced to react to the race, while the FN is seeking to capitalize on it.  

While Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist, won the mayoral race of Paris – the most important local office in the country – the overall results were a resounding message that the French want President Hollande's government to make a change.

Amid the worst popularity ratings for any president of the Fifth Republic, Hollande announced a new pro-business path in January. But he clearly failed to convince voters that he was taking the country in the right direction. If anything, his moves have only served to alienate members of his own party.

“At both the local and national level, this is a defeat for the governing party,” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on TV. “This evening is a moment of truth.”

It is widely expected that Hollande could announce a government shuffle as early as today. The first victim could be the unpopular Mr. Ayrault himself.

Ms. Le Pen was jubilant last night. Even though the party only took control of 11 towns in the country, mostly in the areas of highest unemployment, its tally surpasses the party’s record from a previous high of four in the 1990s.  "This result is proof that we can win on a grand scale," Le Pen told BFM TV.

But the last time the FN controlled towns at the local level in the '90s, the party was unable to convince voters its members would be competent leaders. And if they don’t prove themselves this time, it gives even more of a chance for the UMP to win in three years.

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