Fans of France’s ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy threw out a cheer after the centre-right UMP party he leads looked to have won some two thirds of the country’s local councils in Sunday’s elections, along with conservative allies.
This reinforced Sarkozy’s contested leadership within the UMP party.
His success was a heavy cost for the Socialists led by President François Hollande.
The UMP leader said: “Now at last we will speed up preparation of an alternative Republican project, profoundly new. This project will be the absolute condition to revive our country, to draw a line under the decline into which it has been thrust by three years of the most archaic socialism in Europe.”
In the two rounds of local elections, 4,108 councillors in total were elected. Knowing how many councils each party won will have to wait till Thursday, when a pair of councillors per constituency elect the presidents of 98 “departement” councils.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, whose deeply unpopular Socialist administration had tried to play up modest signs of recovery in the euro zone’s second largest economy, conceded defeat.
Valls said: “The left, too spread out, too divided in the first round, experienced a clear setback in spite of the good records of local council executives.”
The far right National Front saw around 60 of its candidates elected, up from just one before the elections. But it is less than two percent of the total. Party leader Marine Le Pen hopes to build up local bases to contest national ballots. The party won one in four votes in the first round last week but failed to to transform its growing popularity into winning constituencies.
Le Pen said: “The goal approaches. To reach power and apply our ideas for reviving France will give it back its liberty, its security, its prosperity.”
The elected councillors have limited powers over roads, schools and social services.
Beyond that, these elections may be seen as a testing ground ahead of France’s presidential polls in 2017.
Sophie Desjardin, euronews:
“Jean-Yves Camus, you are the Director of the Observatory of Political Radicalism and a specialist on the extreme right… With each new election, the Front National’s results are the most scrutinised. And, after the second round of local elections, we saw somewhat confused interpretations of the party’s score. What’s yours?”
Jean-Yves Camus, Director of the Observatory of Political Radicalism:
“It all depends on whether you look at the number of regions won, or the percentage of votes the Front National gained after the second round.
“In terms of regions won, we tend to say a good performance is between 40 and 50. Then, when we look at the percentages by region, we see that – in many cases – the Front National is actually on the heels, or indeed ahead of, the UMP-UDI alliance. And there we can clearly see the difference between this score and the reduced number of seats that the majority system allows the Front National to win.
“In any case, the main problem is that, at 25 percent, tripartite political life is already in sight – the three-party government alluded to by observers.”
“Which leads me to my next question: are we still looking at a two-party system, or rather are we witnessing the advent of a three-party government?”
“The majority system will make the formation of a true, three-party government complicated. To reach that point, there would have to be proportional representation across the board, except, of course, at the presidential election.
“So, on the one hand we have institutions made for a simple, left-right split in political life. And on the other, the Front National, which is growing and, little-by-little, has led to the existence of three – rather than two – political forces, which split the cake into fairly even pieces. That means, eventually, French politics may go through a major restructure.”
“Is the right-wing’s incontestable victory a decisive sign for the 2017 general election, or do things still hang in the balance?”
“2017 is far away and we don’t yet know who the candidates will be except, of course, for the Front National. It has a small advantage since the party won’t be holding primaries. There’s no contest over who will represent it. The election remains open on the right and, in any case, if the presidential election were to be held today, Marine Le Pen wouldn’t win.
“But the real question is: by how much will she lose? We can be certain she won’t lose to the same extent as her father, Jean Marie Le Pen, in 2002. We’re not looking at 82 percent to 18 percent. It will probably be a much-tighter race.”
“What, in your opinion, could the left-wing learn from its fourth consecutive electoral setback?”
“Today, as the prime minister has announced, the left has two options. Firstly, they could say ‘we’re on the right track, let’s persevere in the same way until certain figures are released. For example, the figures on unemployment and purchasing power. Once the voters see these, they’ll come back to us. Exactly a year remains before we start our election campaign.’”
“The second option, which is the party rebels’ line, would be to say ‘this is it. So let’s change course and stop thinking that, at a given point in the future, we’ll have the opportunity to reap the results of policies – the essence of which, they are totally against.’”