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10th Dec 2022

France swings to right in local election, heavy defeat for left

  • Francois Hollande - The next test for France's political landscape will be regional elections in December (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

France swung to the right after the second round of the local elections Sunday (29 March) handing a major victory to the opposition UMP and its allies, while the far-right won no departments but secured the most councillors ever.

According to the preliminary results of the elections, seen as a litmus test for the 2017 presidential elections, the centre-right went from controlling 41 departments before the elections to 65 afterwards.

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The left was on course to lose around half of its 61 departments.

The results represent a political bodyblow to the governing Socialists of President Francois Hollande, while former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who wants to become president again in 2017, is set to present his UMP party as the only one that can contain the far-right.

French Prime Minister Manual Valls said "the French have declared... their anger at a daily life that is too difficult," while adding that he would work harder to boost the economy and focus on "jobs, jobs, jobs".

He called the significant gains in seats for the National Front "a sign of a lasting upheaval of our political landscape and we will all need to draw lessons from it".

Sarkozy said "the French people have massively rejected the policies of Francois Hollande and his government" and added "The time for change is now".

While the National Front did worse than had been predicted by the polls, its leader Marine Le Pen painted the large gains in councillor seats, to 62 seats up from one currently, as a step along the way to greater power.

Councillors - there are 4, 108 of them - have limited powers over issues such as schools and roads.

"This will be the base for the great victories of tomorrow," said Le Pen. “The goal is near, reaching power and applying our ideas to redress France.”

Le Pen's party - which wants a referendum on EU membership - won the EU elections in France last May, representing a major shock for France's mainstream political parties as well as the country's EU partners.

Her party has seen its political fortunes rise as France's economy stagnates and unemployment has been at a record high.

Hollande, for his part, has been under pressure to undertake structural reforms to boost the economy and bring the country's budget deficit to below the three percent of GDP required by EU rules.

His poll ratings, consistently low in recent years, were boosted after the Islamic extremist attacks in Paris in January, but the effect was short-lived.

Sunday's vote represented the fourth electoral defeat for the Socialists since he came to power in 2012.

The next test for France’s political landscape will be regional elections in December.

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