• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

France's National Front hails poll breakthrough

Ben McPartland · 30 Mar 2014, 22:43

Published: 30 Mar 2014 22:43 GMT+02:00

SEE ALSO: As it happened - Local election results 2014

On a day dubbed "Black Sunday" by one Socialist lawmaker, the National Front (FN) won control of at least 12 towns and was on track to claim 1,200 municipal council seats nationwide, its best ever showing at the grassroots level of French politics.
 
It was also a night to savour for France's main opposition, the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).
 
The party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy performed strongly across the country, seizing control of a string of towns and cities, including some once considered bastions of the left.

In a rare consolation for President François Hollande's party, the Socialists held on to control of Paris, where Anne Hidalgo, 54, will become the first female mayor of the French capital after a victory that was far more comfortable than anyone had expected.

But Limoges, a town that had been run by the left for 102 years, fell to the UMP, as did Toulouse, the Champagne capital Reims and Saint-Étienne, as well as dozens of other smaller urban centres.

"It has been a black Sunday," said Socialist deputy Jean-Christophe Cambadelis.

Candidates backed by Marine Le Pen's FN secured the mayor's seat in the mid-sized southern towns of Beziers and Frejus and other smaller towns, adding to its first-round victory in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont.

"We have moved onto a new level," Le Pen claimed. "There is now a third major political force in our country."

The historic festival city of Avignon, where the FN had headed the first round vote, remained under left-wing control and Le Pen's party also failed to win the northeastern town of Forbach and the southern city of Perpignan, both of which had been among their top objectives.
 
An OpinionWay poll for Le Figaro suggested the UMP and its allies had taken 45 percent of the votes cast nationwide in municipalities of more than 1,000 residents, while the Socialists and other left-wing parties took 43 percent and the FN, which was only standing in a small number of communes, registered seven percent.

A 'severe warning' 

"We have had a very severe warning," acknowledged Segolène Royal, Hollande's former partner who is tipped for a return to government in the reshuffle that is expected to follow in the wake of Sunday's rout.
 
The Socialists were not helped by a turnout estimated at around 62 percent of the electorate, which is low by French local election standards and was largely explained by large numbers of left-leaning voters staying at home.
 
The FN's success at these elections has been widely interpreted as reflecting exasperation among voters with the Hollande government.
 
The Socialists' failure to get a stagnant economy moving and reverse the upward march of unemployment is seen as having aggravated anger over other issues, such as crime and immigration, and increased disillusionment with mainstream politicians of all stripes.
 
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is widely expected to be made the principal scapegoat for the government's failures when Hollande takes stock on Monday morning. "The message the voters have sent is very clear and must be clearly heard," Ayrault said.
 
Popular Interior Minister Manuel Valls, a dapper and tough-talking character who has broad appeal across the political spectrum, is the favourite to replace him.
 
Adding a bit of soap opera drama to proceedings is the likelihood of a comeback by Royal following the president's separation from girlfriend Valérie Trierweiler in January.
 
Story continues below…
Trierweiler, who was dumped after it emerged Hollande was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet, had reportedly wielded a veto over Royal's mooted inclusion in Hollande's first cabinet.
 
Now however, the mother of Hollande's four children is being tipped to get a major new portfolio spanning education, science and youth.

The FN meanwhile faces a test of its ability to run the towns it has won. That has generally not been the case when the party has secured a handful of mayoral positions in the past.

Le Pen, who has made strenuous efforts to forge a new, more respectable image for the party founded by her father Jean-Marie, is looking to establish a local base that will allow the FN to prove it is more than a protest movement in the run-up to the 2017 presidential election.
 
Le Pen, who took over the FN leadership in 2011, has been credited with broadening the appeal of a party regarded as taboo by many voters in light of her father's repeated convictions for Holocaust denial and inciting racial hatred.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Morocco's king drains water supply from French villages
King Mohamed VI of Morocco. Photo: AFP

King in town + 300-strong entourage = no drinking water for a French village.

Macron vows 'to transform France from next year'
Photo: AFP

Ex-Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron sets his sights on the presidency albeit without saying so.

French PM suggests naked breasts represent France
A statue of Marianne at the Place de la Republique in Paris, with her left breast on show. Photo: AFP

Just as the burqini ban furore was dying down French PM Manuel Valls has stirred things up again for suggesting naked breasts were a stronger symbol of the Republic than a Muslim headscarf.

Macron quits government before likely bid for Elysée
President Hollande, left, and Emmanuel Macron. Photo: AFP

France's rebel Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron stepped down on Tuesday as he looks set to concentrate on replacing his boss as president of France.

What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
Competitors in the colourful Marathon du Medoc. Photo: AFP

Summer's not over just yet.

French police officer stabbed by knifeman in Toulouse
Photo: AFP

Attacker, believed to have mental health problems, targeted police officer "because he represented France", unconfirmed reports say.

French parents told to cover naked 18-month old at beach
People enjoying the sun at the Villeneuve-de-la-Raho lake near Perpignan. File photo: AFP

An 18-month-old boy cannot bathe naked, at least according to authorities in southern France.

Every fact you need to know about France's 'départements'
Photo: AFP

So what's the most populated "département" if it's not Paris? Find the answer, as well as every other need to know fact about France's 101 departments.

Brexit: You've got till 2019 Hollande warns UK
Photo: AFP

For the sake of everyone the divorce needs to happen as soon as possible, says Hollande.

Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Politics
Emmanuel Macron: The whizzkid who could shake up French politics
Education
French schools to ramp up security with 'mock attacks'
Features
Where to go in France to find the best ice cream
National
Majority in France against burqinis on beaches
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
National
How to keep cool during France's heatwave
Society
Parisians invited to swim in the Bassin de la Villette
Society
Five tips for surviving an internship in France
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Politics
Déja vu? Familiar faces in France's presidential race
National
Meet the man paying off burqini fines in France
National
Eight tips on buying wine in a French supermarket
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Society
Here's how to enjoy Paris (while avoiding the heat)
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
Ten mistakes to avoid when dating a Frenchman
Society
Twelve 'French' things that aren't actually French at all
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
'World's priciest home' on sale in French Riviera for €1 billion
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
RECIPE: How to make the tastiest ratatouille
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
National
Paris sees Europe's biggest plunge in 'liveability'
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
Life on the home front in rural France's 'war on terror'
Features
Weird facts you didn't know about the French language
Society
Paris foodie event cancelled over lack of security
How to tackle six of the trickiest French verbs
National
Summer in France - 'the ideal time to find a job'
National
'Burqini bans will only divide France more'
National
French vineyards revive horse-drawn ploughs
2,749
jobs available