Hollande punished as National Front makes sweeping gains in French local elections

Embattled President’s Socialist party suffers big losses, with mayoral race in Paris offering only respite

In a stinging punishment for President François Hollande, right-wing and far-right parties made sweeping gains in the first round of the French municipal elections on Sunday night.

Marine Le Pen’s National Front seemed likely to score its best-ever results in local elections and may capture several town halls next weekend for the first time in nearly two decades.

The far-right won outright in the depressed former mining town of Hénin-Beaumont, near Lille, without the need for a second round of voting next week. It also had substantial leads on Sunday night in two medium-sized towns in the South, Fréjus and Béziers. It held smaller leads in two larger southern cities, Perpignan and Avignon, and in Forbach in Lorraine.

In Marseille, France’s second city, the NF pushed the Socialists into third place.

One bright spot for President Hollande was the solid performance in Paris by the Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo. Although she seemed unlikely to top the first round poll, she was winning easily in crucial districts and was favourite to become the capital’s first woman mayor next weekend.

The poll was the first electoral test for Mr Hollande and his centre-left government since it came to power almost two years ago. Given the President’s abysmal approval ratings of about 23 per cent, and an unemployment rate stuck just below 10 per cent, sweeping losses were expected.

There was a sharp swing to the centre-right, which won 46 per cent of the votes, compared with 40 per cent for the left. The National Front scored only 7 per cent nationwide but was running lists of candidates in only 560 medium-sized towns and cities, out of 1,200.

Early returns suggested that the NF – made cosmetically more respectable by Ms Le Pen over the past three years – was well placed to smash its previous municipal best result in 1995, when it won three town halls. Ms Le Pen spoke of an “exceptional high tide” for her party. She said electors had voted to reject a stumbling centre-left administration and a centre-right stricken by accusations of financial wrongdoing against several of its leaders, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“This is the end of the two-way division of French political life,” she said. “The National Front has now emerged as a great, independent force in its own right, not just nationally but locally.”

Socialist party leaders blamed abstention by left-wing voters, which reduced the nationwide turn out to 61 per cent, the lowest ever in a municipal election. The Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said both left-wing and centre-right voters now had a “ responsibility” to come together to prevent the NF from capturing more town halls next Sunday.

Despite the multiple scandals, Sunday’s results also looked reasonably strong for the main centre-right party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). The centre-right seems certain, after the second round next week, to recapture a string of medium-sized towns lost to the left in 2008. 

Its hopes of recapturing Paris appeared to have been dashed, however. The centre-right candidate, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, was narrowly ahead in the overall vote but trailing badly in the swing arrondissements, or districts, she needs to defeat Ms Hidalgo, the current deputy mayor, next week.

In the 1,200 largest towns and cities, only those parties which won 10 per cent of the first vote can compete  next week. The NF should be able to fight again in more than 100 towns and led the first-round vote in 12 towns and large villages, mostly in the south. It has a strong chance of capturing two other town halls on Sunday – Beziers on the Languedoc coast and Fréjus, near Toulon.

Last night, centre-right leaders dismissed the government’s calls for a “Republican front” of left and centre-right to block the advance of Ms Le Pen’s party. 

Depending on the scale of  left-wing losses next week, Mr Hollande could dismiss or reshuffle the government. Mr Ayrault is a possible casualty, with  the Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, and Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, the favourites to replace him.

Alternatively, President Hollande may stay the axe until the European elections in May which are likely to produce an even more calamitous result for the left and could even be “won” nationwide by the National Front.

The NF’s success on Sunday came despite a campaign littered with embarrassments. One nonagenarian candidate in the outer Paris suburbs died before the nominations deadline but her name was not removed from the party’s list. A candidate in the south of France turned out to be an actress in pornographic movies.

A scattering of other NF candidates were revealed to have racist views or extremist  connections, despite Ms le Pen’s claim to have cleaned up the party.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Life and Style
The new model would be a “pedal assist” bike in which the rider’s strength is augmented by the engine on hills and when they want to go fast
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower