French president Nicolas Sarkozy's government lost its majority in the Senate to the left last night in a historic defeat just seven months before the presidential election. It was the first time since 1958 that the right-dominated upper house swung to a left-wing majority as the body's membership underwent a major generational change of guard.
Early results showed left-wing candidates winning 23 seats from the ruling conservative party, securing them an absolute majority. The shift to the left, which UMP Senate leader Gerard Larcher had described as having "seismic" consequences ahead of a presidential election next April, drew howls of joy from left-wing supporters at a meeting in Paris. "The 25th of September, 2011, will go down in history," Jean-Pierre Bel, head of the Socialist group in the Senate, said on LCI television.
A left-leaning Senate will not be able to derail Sarkozy's legislative plans but the loss is a symbolic setback, especially when taken together with his persistently poor poll ratings.