France's right-wing parties lead local elections

2015-03-23 05:53
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. (Philippe Huguen, AFP)

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. (Philippe Huguen, AFP)

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Paris - France's right-wing parties, led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, appeared to have edged out the far-right National Front to take first place in local elections on Sunday.

A range of polling firms put a conservative alliance, including Sarkozy's opposition UMP, in the lead after the first round of the elections with between 29.7 and 32.5% of the vote.

The results put a dampener on the recent run of victories for the anti-EU and anti-immigration National Front (FN) led by Marine Le Pen, which had dominated the airwaves during the campaign.

The FN topped opinion polls going into the vote and appeared to be capitalising on France's stagnant economy.

The initial results showed it taking the lead in Sunday's vote in 43 out of 101 "departments", which have power over local issues such as school and welfare budgets.

The party's best results "are concentrated in the southeast, particularly in the cities and near the cities it runs," said political scientist Jean-Yves Camus.

That put it ahead of the ruling Socialist Party of President Francois Hollande, whose failure to address double-digit unemployment has seen him haemorrhage support since he took charge in 2012.

The Socialists took between 19.7 and 24%, but a range of other left-wing parties took up to 7.7% more, according to pollsters.

Run-off elections

The mainstream parties will be able to call on smaller allies when voters return for run-off elections next Sunday, while the FN will struggle to find allies.

"There will be no local or national deal with the leaders of the FN," declared Sarkozy immediately after the initial figures were released.

The mainstream parties have closed ranks in recent weeks against the FN.

"Tonight, the far-right, even if it is too high, is not the leading political party in France," said Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

He called on voters to back either the left or right in next week's second-round run-offs to keep the far right from power.

'Hate' campaign against FN

The FN went into the elections polling around 30% and neck-and-neck with Sarkozy's right-wing alliance of the Union for a Popular Movement and the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI).

Le Pen returned to a common theme of her campaign after the results were announced, saying the mainstream parties were conspiring in a campaign of "hate" against her party.

She remained bullish about the initial results, pointing to the fact they were higher than the party's victorious tally in last year's European polls.

"This massive vote for the National Front that is taking root in election after election shows that the French want to rediscover their freedom," she said.

"Send home those who have brought France to her knees, and bring a new political generation to power."

Weaker results

Despite weaker results on Sunday, the FN has still enjoyed a run of strong results in recent votes, coming first in the European elections last year and winning control of 11 town halls.

Le Pen is hoping this momentum will carry forward to a successful run at the presidency in 2017.

Earlier this week, she declared her party would "invade the Elysee [presidential palace]".

Her party has capitalised on anger over France's lacklustre economy, as well as the politically explosive issues of immigration and the integration of Islam into French society after the Paris terrorist attacks.

But it has also benefited from Hollande's disastrous popularity figures.

His ratings have hit record lows, despite a temporary boost in the wake of the January jihadist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket, when he was credited with rallying the country.

Despite the recent rise of the far right, the Communist party (PCF) said it was confident of hanging onto the two departments it still controls in the Allier and the Val-de-Marne near Paris in tight second-round battles.

Read more on:    francois hollande  |  nicholas sarkozy  |  france

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