France’s governing Socialist Party has suffered heavy losses in municipal elections, early results indicate.
President Francois Hollande’s party and its allies garnered 42 percent of the votes, while the opposition conservatives came out on top in several cities with 49 percent.
The right-wing anti-immigration National Front (FN) party claimed significant gains in the voting for mayors and municipal counselors by gaining 1,200 municipal council seats nationwide.
Exit polls showed that candidates supported by the FN and its leader, Marine Le Pen, had secured the mayor’s seat in the southern towns of Beziers and Frejus, but missed some key targets.
“We have moved onto a new level,” Le Pen said, adding, “There is now a third major political force in our country.”
Jean-Francois Cope, leader of the centre-right UMP, also hailed what he called a “blue wave”- his party’s colors- of support for the UMP.
The turnout is estimated at nearly 53 percent, which is an all-time low in the history of municipal elections.
Political experts link the Socialists’ great losses to the growing discontent over the country’s flagging economy and recession and the recent legalization of gay marriage despite public heavy opposition.
The results could trigger a political shake-up of the embattled Socialist government, amid the general public’s unhappiness with Hollande’s performance.
According to early results, in Paris, which has had a Socialist mayor since 2001, Anne Hidalgo, Socialist candidate and the deputy mayor of Paris, was set to defeat UMP candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. Her triumph will hold the capital under Socialists’ control for another six years.
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