Marianne Barriaux, Yahoo! News, March 24, 2014
France’s far-right National Front party dealt a major blow to the ruling Socialists Sunday after several of its candidates took prime position in the first round of local elections.
The main centre-right opposition UMP party also hailed a “big victory” as initial estimates showed it came out trumps in the elections, as President Francois Hollande suffers record unpopularity against a backdrop of near-zero growth and high unemployment.
According to preliminary results from the interior ministry, the UMP and allies took 47 percent of the vote nationwide while the Socialist party and allies took 38 percent, and the FN five percent–far higher than its 0.9 percent result in the first round of 2008 municipal polls.
Applauding what she said was “an exceptional vintage for the FN”, Marine Le Pen–head of the anti-immigration, anti-EU party–said the polls marked the “end of the bipolarisation of the political scene”.
Although the FN had been expected to do well, the first round results were far better than expected.
Far-right candidates came ahead in several key towns and cities that will put them in pole position in the second round on March 30.
In the former coal-mining town of Henin-Beaumont in northern France, Steeve Briois went a step further and achieved 50.3 percent, an absolute majority which made him the outright winner and mayor.
Under municipal election rules in France, any candidate who gets more than 50 percent is declared the winner and there is no need for a second round.
The FN hopes to claim the mayorship of 10 to 15 mid-sized town after the second round, and if it achieves that, it will have beaten its previous record in 1997 when it had four mayors.
The mayorship of the French capital is the most high profile of municipal elections that will produce over 36,000 new mayors for villages, towns and cities across France.
And while very few of these will be from the FN, the Sunday results are a remarkable turnaround for a party that, at the time of the last municipals, was mired in financial crisis and internal bickering.