Tue, Sep 30, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Far-right win two seats in French poll

LEFT LOSES ITS GRIP:Socialist leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis played down the scale of his party’s defeat, saying it had feared greater gains by right-wing parties

The Guardian, PARIS

The far-right Front National scored a historic victory in elections to the French senate on Sunday, winning its first ever seats in the upper chamber as the ruling Socialists and their left-wing allies lost their majority to right-wing parties.

The shock victory of Stephane Ravier from Marseilles and David Rachline from Frejus confirmed the Front National’s political breakthrough under Marine Le Pen, who has brushed the poisonous legacy of her father and founder of the party Jean-Marie Le Pen under the carpet in her attempts to “de-demonize” the Front National.

The two seats are both in the Front National’s stronghold in southern France and at 26, Rachline, the mayor of Frejus, is the youngest French senator ever elected.

The result marks a third humiliating electoral defeat for the Socialist party, which has been punished by disillusioned voters while support for the Front National has surged.

Marine Le Pen’s party won control of a dozen municipalities in elections in March, including the seventh district in Marseilles, where Ravier was elected mayor.

It also came top in the European elections two months later, when it knocked the center-right UMP into second place.

One poll earlier this month said that Marine Le Pen could theoretically beat French President Francois Hollande in the second round of the next presidential election, scheduled for 2017.

Referring to the presidency after his election to the senate, Ravier said: “There’s just one more door to open, the Elysee.”

“In 2017, we’ll have Marine Le Pen to do it,” he said.

Sunday’s complex vote was for half of the 348 seats in the senate by an electoral college of 87,000 voters made up of city councilors and local officials. A first round of voting that concluded at about midday provided a foretaste of the final shock result, with the Socialists losing seven seats, including in Hollande’s own constituency of La Correze.

“It’s Berezina,” one leading Socialist said, referring to Napoleon’s defeat while retreating from Russia.

With Hollande’s popularity at an unprecedented low of 13 percent and the government hit by budget woes, record joblessness and zero growth, his party had expected to lose the senate majority it has held with the Communists and Greens since 2011.

Marine Le Pen hailed her party’s success as a “great victory, an absolutely historic victory” that she said would represent a “breath of fresh air in a rather sleepy chamber.”

“With every day that passes, our ideas are making progress,” she told BFMTV, predicting further gains for the Front National in the forthcoming territorial and regional elections.

The result is also a much-needed shot in the arm for the UMP of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is bidding to return to head the party.

Sarkozy returned to the political arena last week and is clearly positioning himself for another run at the presidency after Hollande defeated him in 2012.

With the final senate results still awaited, Socialist leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis played down the scale of his party’s defeat, saying it had feared greater gains by the opposition right-wing parties.

The leader of the senate, Socialist Didier Guillaume, predicted that the right would not have a stable majority, saying that the UMP would need to rely on centrist allies.

Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll stressed that whatever the outcome, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls would not be deflected from his reform plans.

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