Conservatives triumph in French local elections

Marine Le Pen claimed success for the National Front but the party won only 62 of 4,108 seats. Picture: AP
Marine Le Pen claimed success for the National Front but the party won only 62 of 4,108 seats. Picture: AP
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FAR-RIGHT National Front leader Marine Le Pen could not hide her disappointment yesterday not to have won one single local council in France’s election, but insisted she was satisfied with her party’s performance.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party and its allies won 46 per cent of Sunday’s vote, taking control of 66 of the 98 local councils, mostly at the expense of the left, which lost 25 of them, according to the Interior ministry. The Left captured 32 per cent of the vote and the National Front won 22 per cent. Turnout was 49.98 per cent.

In an interview yesterday with radio RTL, Ms Le Pen reminded her audience that her party won just a single seat in 2011, and 62 of the 4,108 available on Sunday.

“I obviously express my satisfaction. We have multiplied by 62 our number of elected councillors,” she said, adding that the results were a “magnificent success” for her party.

It is the latest in a series of elections that have expanded the National Front’s presence in French politics, part of Ms Le Pen’s strategy toward a 2017 presidential campaign.

Ms Le Pen herself is looking ahead to France’s regional election in December.

“I believe that we have serious hopes of success in four to five regions [out of 13 total],” she said.

France’s governing Socialists are facing their fourth electoral defeat since President François Hollande took power in 2012, reflecting the government’s unpopularity due to its failure to boost the lagging economy and lower the 10 per cent unemployment rate.

Prime minister Manuel Valls had called on voters to choose anyone running, even a rival conservative, to block National Front candidates.

Conservatives gained spectacular victories in Correze in central France and Essonne near Paris, the electoral homes of Mr Hollande and Mr Valls. They also won some councils governed by the left for decades, including Bouches-du-Rhone – Marseille and its surroundings – that had been continuously led by Socialists for more than 60 years.

Candidates were elected by pairs – one man, one woman – to ensure that 50 per cent of council members are women.

The elections are seen as a key test of public opinion ahead of the 2017 presidential election.

Paris and Lyon, France’s two biggest cities, did not take part in Sunday’s election. Mr Sarkozy, who secured the UMP leadership last November, said “never has our political family won so many councils”.

He told his supporters that voters had “massively rejected the policies of François Hollande and his government”.

Pierrre Guerlain, a professor at Paris West University, said that he was not surprised by the election results, as “all opinion polls predicted such a situation”.

“Hollande was elected on a left-wing platform and immediately implemented economic polices more to the Right, so he is [carrying out] the policy of the right,” Mr Guerlain said. “And a lot of people who supported him are dissatisfied.”

“Another factor is that there is as crisis affecting the poor, low- and middle-class people…They project their dissatisfaction [on] to Europe, and Europe is not helping.”

Mr Guerlain said that Ms Le Pen, as the far-right candidate, would “have a good chance” in the second round of the 2017 presidential elections.

An even bleaker future for Hollande’s party was predicted by Gilles Finchelstein, a political strategist close to the Socialists.

“The left is in danger of dying [and] risks becoming nothing more than a residual political force,” he said.

Bernard Sananes, head of the polling organisation CSA said: “The National Front has done ten points better than it did in the 2011 local elections, but its progress has stalled. It seems to have reached a ceiling,”