The Left still controls the lower house, which is the dominant legislative body in France, but yesterday’s ballot underlined the unpopularity of the president and the continued rise of the anti-immigration, anti-euro National Front.
The party, led by Marine Le Pen, took two seats in the august Senate, following on from its surprise victory in European parliamentary elections in May and its strong showing in municipal elections in March.
“These results are beyond what we hoped for,” said Ms Le Pen.
“Each day that passes, our ideas are increasingly being adopted by the French people … We have great potential.”
Half of the Senate’s 348 seats were up for grabs yesterday, with only some 158,000 people, the vast majority local councillors, entitled to vote.
Early results showed that the main opposition party, the UMP, and the centre-right UDI party took at least 20 seats from the Left, which had a Senate majority of just six heading into the election.
“There is a complete rejection of Socialist policies,” UMP senator Roger Karoutchi said.
Mr Hollande’s popularity fell to a record low this month, with only 13 per cent of those surveyed saying they were satisfied with the performance of a president who has struggled to revive the stagnant economy.
The National Front has successfully capitalised on growing discontent over unemployment and resentment over immigration, and hopes to score an upset in the 2017 presidential election.
“There is only one door left for us to push and it is that of the Elysee,” said newly-elected National Front senator Stephane Ravier, referring to the French presidency.
The Senate press office last night said a final count will await tallies from all of France’s overseas holdings – not likely until this morning.
A conservative win was expected: Senators are chosen by nearly 78,000 electors nationwide, including local officials who took office in a conservative victory in municipal elections six months ago.
Socialists still control the National Assembly, which has final say in drafting laws. But control of the Senate gives conservatives a chance to delay legislative bills supported by Mr Hollande.