French President Francois Hollande’s Socialists lost control of cities across the country yesterday, as voters punished the party for record joblessness.
While Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo, 54, won in Paris, making her the French capital’s first female mayor, throughout France the main beneficiary was former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party. It ousted Socialist mayors in cities such as Toulouse, Limoges, Belfort and Reims. The anti-euro National Front of Marine Le Pen gained ground, while failing to make the breakthrough it threatened after a first round a week ago.
“At both the local and national level, this is a defeat for the governing party,” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a televised address. “This evening is a moment of truth.”
In what was seen as a referendum on Hollande's almost two years in power, the vote shows growing discontent with jobless claims at a record of more than 3 million and an economy that has barely grown in two years. The results could put pressure on Hollande, the least popular president since at least 1958, to overhaul his government team.
A Harris poll released last week said 78 percent of the French want him to replace Ayrault. Among the possible candidates, 19 percent favor Interior Minister Manuel Valls, 13 percent want Lille Mayor Martine Aubry, and 10 percent opt for Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, according to the poll.
A Harris poll released March 3 said that Hollande had a 25 percent approval rating, a record low.
Valls said yesterday that preliminary numbers show the Socialists and their allies got 40.6 percent of the nationwide vote, while the UMP and their allies got 45.9 percent and the National Front 6.8 percent. He said 10 towns with populations of more than 100,000 swung from the left to the right.
The euro was little changed at $1.3748 as of 9:14 a.m. in Paris from the end of last week, when it touched $1.3705, the lowest since Feb. 28. The benchmark CAC 40 Index was little changed at 4,423.21.
Ayrault said yesterday that his government “has not explained well enough its actions to get the country back on its feet.” He said he was still “convinced that these difficult reforms will bear their fruit.”
About 6,000 municipalities held run-off elections for city councils yesterday after a first round of voting a week ago in all of France’s 36,000 towns. A record 38.5 percent of registered voters abstained, according to estimates by TF1 television.
“The high abstention Sunday shows the failure of the left to mobilize its supporters,” Frederic Dabi, deputy director general of polling company Ifop, said on i-Tele television.
Local elections generally go against the party in power, Dabi said, citing an election 10 years ago when the party of then President Jacques Chirac lost control of 24 of France’s 26 regions.
The UMP held on to the mayor’s job in Marseille, France’s third-largest city. The victories gave the party a breather from months of scandals and a leadership battle that have left it in disarray since Sarkozy lost the presidency in May 2012.
“The UMP is going to win more than half of cities with 9,000 or more inhabitants,” Jean-Francois Cope, head of the UMP, said on TF1 television. “The UMP is the first political party in France.”
The Socialists did have some victories, holding on to Metz, Rennes, Strasbourg, and Lille, while wresting control of Avignon.
The National Front won in Frejus and a candidate linked to the front won in Bezier. The party failed in Perpignan and Avignon, where it scored strongly in the first round.
The anti-immigrant party may not match its success in 1995, when Front candidates won mayoral elections in Toulon, Orange, and Marignane. None were re-elected.
The National Front will have another chance in May’s European parliamentary election, where it won’t face the challenge it faced in yesterday’s vote of compiling lists of candidates in 36,000 towns.
An Ipsos poll said the UMP will get 24 percent of the French vote in the European elections, with 22 percent for the National Front and 19 percent for the Socialists. The poll questioned 1,600 people on March 27-29.