Municipal election run-offs gutted the ruling Socialist Party led by President François Hollande. The French voted – when they bothered to vote at all – heavily for the centre-right UMP opposition (the political banner of which is blue).
The other blue victory was for the far right Front National (FN), led by Marine Le Pen.
UMP leader Jean-François Copé put his party’s win in a historical context: “It’s the first time the UMP has won local elections since its creation. What an election! Clearly, it’s a massive blue wave, with multiple victories, and a crushing rejection of the government.”
The governing Socialists did, however, remain in power in the two biggest French cities: Paris and Lyon.
Marseilles remained under the control of the right; the real jackpot for the UMP was that 155 towns, among them cities with 50,000 people or more, and long in the hands of the left, went over to them.
Only five switched left, and they were not very big.
It was not a resounding surprise, Hollande’s popularity is so low, as is that of his government. They are the big losers in these municipal elections. Their traditional supporters stayed home in droves; abstention broke records — as high as 60 percent.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault acknowledged his role: “This vote, locally and nationally, is a defeat for the government and the majority. The President of the Republic will draw his conclusions, in the interest of France.” Ayrault quit to be replaced by centrist Interior Minister Manuel Valls.
More French felt comfortable with the far right, saying what bothers them: immigration, free trade, unemployment and low earnings as well as the power of the European Union.
Front National victories
The Mediterranean city of Marseilles kept its UMP mayor, but the far right FN candidate won in the 7th district of the country’s third-largest city, a part with a racially-mixed population of some 150,000, making it the party’s biggest prize.
The Front National won 11 cities in all, among them the sizable Béziers and Fréjus. Generally, in these cities, turnout was lower than average.
FN leader Marine Le Pen said: “The Front National has demonstrated today that people subscribe to this movement’s ideas. I believe that no one can say otherwise. Our voters want our candidates, to defend their ideas, therefore our ideas.”
Le Pen’s party fielded candidates in fewer than 600 of France’s 36,000 municipalities – and is claiming a breakthrough. In European elections in May, the Front National plans to do even better.
To discuss this, we spoke with Martial Foucault, director of the Paris-based Political Science Research Centre.
Olivier Peguy, euronews: “Can we say that voters wanted to punish the president and the government?”
Martial Foucault: “I think that’s been a question mark over the government and the president since the first round of voting: would this vote be a sanction or would purely local issues dominate? The results show voters, that people, wanted to send the president a very clear message two years after he came to office — the message being that they’re not satisfied with this government or its policies. It’s very clear that voters want this government to change direction.”
euronews: “The poll was also marked by the Front National’s emergence. Its leader Marine Le Pen said the result marked ‘the end of France’s two-party political system’. Do you think she’s right?”
Foucault: “I think it’s too early to know if France has abandoned its two-party- right-left system. Let’s see the results of the European elections before judging whether Marine Le Pen’s politics have borne fruit. At the end of May, we’ll see if the Front National achieves a high score. We mustn’t forget that the European elections are decided by proportional representation, which gives a clear advantage to small parties such as the FN. I think that, come May, we’ll see if there’s a third political force on the French political landscape.”
euronews: “Let’s talk about abstentions. Levels were very high in the first and second round; what can we read into this? A freak phenomenon? An expression of anger? Or is it a sign of dissatisfaction with the political class?”
Foucault: “We can’t deny that voters feel a sort of fatigue in general over policies that don’t please them. That’s the first point. Secondly, for these elections we’ve seen in certain towns a rise in participation. Especially where the Front National or the Left Front obtained their best results. I would, therefore, say that the electorate is still capable of mobilising but not while the traditional political parties are still fighting each other.”
euronews: “Even though this election was local, it was a big story for the international press. From a foreign point of view, what do you think was the most notable result: the emergence of the Front National, the devastating attack on François Hollande’s Socialists or the revival of the right?”
Foucault: “I would say it’s a combination of those three elements – you’re right. But I think that what our European partners will remember is the rise of the right. We’re going to have right-wing local authorities and a left-wing national government. And François Hollande cannot ignore the towns, communes and cities in his governmental actions. This week there’s a very important meeting which is the presentation of the new budget and the public deficit to authorities in Brussels. I think that among our European partners there’s a lot of anticipation as to whether Hollande will maintain the economic course he’s set or ignore these local election results and try to hold on to his policies until 2017.”