Setting the conditions in France for a “massive swing back to the right and centre”. That’s the view of centre-right UMP party leader Nicolas Sarkozy as he and his allies won first place in local elections.
They took 32 percent in the first round after voting in 101 departments or counties. Mr Sarkozy ruled out any deals with the far-right National Front party who came second.
Analysts say it is a setback for Marine Le Pen, the party’s leader. The National Front’s progress has stalled, said one. Opinion polls had suggested the party could have done much better after emerging top in last year’s European Parliament elections. This time it polled 25 percent.
“I said quite clearly, 20 percent would be a good result, 25 percent would be a triumph. Because succeeding in achieving the same score in a local election where we didn’t have any incumbents, with the result in the European elections, which were a national ballot, is extraordinary. We had 360,000 more votes than for the European elections, it s a huge success,” she told reporters.
President Francois Hollande’s socialists, as expected, trailed in third with 22 percent. Marine Le Penn called on the prime minister to resign. He has blamed a fragmented party for the socialists demise and wants a united front next week.
“There is a second round and we have to call on those who abstained. We have to unify the left which has been too dispersed, to divided in the first round. We have to do this in order to keep as many counties and as many departments as possible. All counting and analysis will take place in the evening of the second round,” said Manuel Valls, French Prime Minister
The results of the second round should be known after voting next Sunday. For the first time in these elections voters are not choosing single candidates – but pairs of candidates – one man and one woman – to enforce strict gender equality in local politics.