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French elections deal blow to Hollande, unprecedented win for far-right

Published time: March 31, 2014 09:13
French President Francois Hollande (L) and Marine Le Pen (R), France's far-right National Front political party leader (AFP Photo/Reuters)

French President Francois Hollande (L) and Marine Le Pen (R), France's far-right National Front political party leader (AFP Photo/Reuters)

Francois Hollande is expected to launch a major cabinet reshuffle, as preliminary results show his Socialist party suffering a bitter defeat in local elections. The far right meanwhile has made a breakthrough, claiming its biggest victory in history.

According to preliminary election results of the second round of French local elections, 155 towns in France have said ‘yes’ to having their socialist authorities replaced by representatives from the center-right UMP, party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Particularly bitter for Hollande is his ruling party’s loss in a number of larger towns like Toulouse, Reims, Angers and St. Etienne.

Hollande's Socialists and their allies scored 42 percent of the total vote while UMP won 49 percent of votes, an exit poll by survey group BVA showed.

"This evening is a moment of truth,” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said about the election results, according to Reuters. “There is no getting away from it: this vote is a defeat for the government... and I take my part of the blame."

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (Reuters/Charles Platiau)

Ayrault is expected to lose his post in the aftermath of the Socialists election failure. President Hollande is most likely to launch a reshuffle in his administration, responding to the party’s lack of support. The media has speculated Ayrault could be replaced by the centrist Interior Minister Manuel Valls, popular with the French.

Among other officials, whose jobs are on the line are finance minister Pierre Moscovici, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

A major consolation for Hollande though is that Paris has remained under the control of the ruling party, with Anne Hidalgo, a socialist candidate, becoming the first female mayor of the French capital. Hollande described the victory of the left in Paris as "good news in an ocean of bad news.”

"Mine was a victory for authenticity, a victory for a left loyal to its principles and effective at implementing them," Hidalgo commented on her victory, according to AFP.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front (FN) has been triumphant as her party won mayor’s seat in 15 towns, claiming an unprecedented victory. In 1995, the party only managed to secure itself three mayoralties, which up to now had been the FN’s best result.

We have moved on to a new level,” Marine Le Pen said, while speaking at France 2 TV. “One has to take into account now, there’s a third major political force in our country.

Hollande party’s poor performance at the second round of elections was quite predictable, following the first round of the voting a week ago. Back then Socialists took 38 percent of the vote, compared to 46 percent for the right.

Hollande has gained himself a reputation of the most unpopular French leader in decades. His rating hit a new record low of lea than 20 per cent in February, according to TNS Sofres opinion poll for Le Figaro Magazine.

Following the shakeup in the cabinet, new ministers will be challenged by the strong public dissatisfaction with the policies of their predecessors. Hollande’s government has grown to be associated with France’s struggling economy, high unemployment and high taxes.

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