France’s anti-immigrant Front National (FN) party has made big gains in local elections.
Voters punished President Francois Hollande for failing to tackle the jobless rate of just above 10 per cent.
Leader Marine Le Pen called it a breakthrough for her anti-EU party.
“Generally, a lot of French people are disgusted by their political class,” she said. “But they fall into the trap of abstaining. They need to show this disgust by taking action to change their representatives,” Le Pen added.
The FN scored around five percent of the national vote, a very high amount given that its candidates ran in just 600 out the 36,000 constituencies across France.
The far-right party won power in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont in first-round voting on Sunday.
It needs to secure just three more towns to beat its previous record and it’s already leading in at least six ahead of next week’s second-round voting.
The elections were the first nationwide voter test for Hollande, who’s seen his popularity slump to record lows. If his Socialist Party’s losses are confirmed in next week’s voting, it could speed up a long-expected government reshuffle.
And if the opposition UMP fails to gain on Hollande’s losses, it could trigger a race to replace its current leader Jean-Francois Copé as party chairman.
There was some solace for the Socialists, though. Their candidate for Paris mayor looks to be on course to beat her conservative rival who scored better than expected in the French capital.
The strong Front National gains reinforced expectations that it and other anti-EU parties will do well in May’s European Parliament elections. Opinion polls show the FN on track to emerge as the largest French party in the EU assembly.