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French elections: The key points from round one

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French elections: The key points from round one
Here is what you need to know about the first round of elections on Sunday. Photo: Pascal Pavani/AFP
12:14 CET+01:00
The first round of voting in France's local elections took place on Sunday and threw up some surprising results, not least the huge gains for the far-right National Front party. Here are the key points to note from round one.

The fall-out from the first round of voting from France's local elections was being felt across the country on Monday, but with another round to go next Sunday, what does it all mean?

Here are the important points you need to know about the first round: 

  • Record voter abstention: With 38 percent of registered voters staying away from the polls in the first round of the municipal elections, France hit a new record for lack of voter involvement. Local elections generally see weaker turnout, but experts say voter disillusionment has been fanned by fractious national politics and a struggling economy.
  • Historic results for National Front: Party head Marine Le Pen saw her anti-immigration, anti-EU candidates win enough votes that they will be competing in a record 229 towns and cities, in the second round. However, the party has already captured the mayor’s job in the northern French town of Henin-Beaumont. The National Front also came in first in two dozen towns and cities, including Perpignan, Avginon and Fréjus. Experts said the gains were due in part to record abstention and the string of political scandals that have enveloped the country’s main parties in recent months.
  • The Left gets punished: Under the weight of Hollande’s record low popularity in polls, the left took a beating, though in some cases the pain was symbolic. For example, the small western French town of Niort went for the right after 60 years of governance under the left. Toulouse and Strasbourg were in play after the right candidates mounted a formidable challenge. The right will hold on to Marseille. Hollande's Socialists on Monday made impassioned pleas to voters, seeking support for the deciding round on March 30th and urging them to come out in droves. "Do not sacrifice the town halls and the teams which have delivered at the local level," said National Assembly Speaker Claude Bartolone. 

Press review: France 'wakes to new age of extreme right'

  • The Right does well: Nationwide, the French centre-right UMP party scooped up 47 percent of the vote, compared to the Left's 38 percent and the National Front's five percent. Benefiting from voters' anger over a moribund economy, record unemployment and the Socialist's political bungling, the right sold itself as an alternative. Jean-Francois Copé predicted a "big victory" for his party in the second round, in a sign that corruption scandals that have affected the UMP as well as former president Sarkozy have had little impact.
  • Socialist mayor likely in Paris: While Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet of conservative UMP party leads the popular vote, she lost in two arrondissements that will prove to be key to victory. Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo walked away with both the 12th and 14th districts in the first round, which has left Paris's current deputy mayor on a path to victory for the second round of voting. She will also benefit from making a deal with the Greens to pick up their votes in the second round, as she was expected to do on Monday.
  • Mayors already elected: Politicians in a handful of French cities pulled in enough votes (at least 50 percent) in the first round to win outright. The UMP's Alain Juppé captured Bordeaux, and fellow centre-right candidates Xavier Bertrand and Patrick Balkany took Saint-Quentin and Levallois respectively.
  • Right won't join Left to defeat National Front: As part of its 'neither, nor' strategy in place since 2001 the UMP will refuse to call on its voters to back left-wing candidates to unite against the National Front. The right and the left will occasionally join forces to beat the National Front, but  the leader of the UMP party Jean-François Copé called on those who had voted for the FN to "carry over their vote" onto UMP candidates in the second round. In contrast France's ruling Socialist Party on Monday announced it would join forces with the Greens and the Communist Party in a bid to block advances by the far-right National Front (FN). The Socialist Party also announced that it would tactically withdraw from a three-way contest in the southern town of St Gilles, leaving voters with a straight choice between the FN candidate and the mainstream centre right UMP.
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