French President François Hollande will have some reflecting to do this week as France’s runoff town hall elections on Sunday appear to be showing deep discontent among voters for the president’s Socialist Party. Early results show a massive shift in town hall elections toward former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right coalition.
"Never ... has our political family won so many councils,” a beaming Sarkozy told his rallying supporters in Paris on Sunday, Agence France-Presse reported. He said French voters have “massively rejected” Hollande’s policies. Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) has taken as many as 70 town councils, claiming more than half of the 61 councils held by the Socialists.
The councils are responsible for managing local education and social insurance budgets, as well as typical town hall governing duties. The elections are seen as a preview to the 2017 presidential race.
France is Europe’s second-largest economy, but it faces a sizable deficit, debt that accounts for more than three times the country’s gross domestic product and an unemployment rate that topped 10 percent in last year's fourth quarter. Hollande’s Socialists have been reluctant to implement reforms that the business community and the political opposition say are needed to spur economic growth.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a member of the Socialist Party, expressed contrition Sunday, calling the elections a setback for leftists. He pledged to increase efforts to grow the economy.
The far-right National Front made significant gains in the first-round elections last week, but lost ground in the runoffs. Still, it has a chance of gaining its first council, early poll results suggest. During first-round voting March 23, the National Front easily won the northern town of Henin-Beaumont and took first place in three other towns.
Marine Le Pen, president of the National Front, appeared to be happy with Sunday’s early results. "The goal is near, reaching power and applying our ideas to redress France," she told supporters, the BBC reported.