Exit polls Sunday evening indicated a huge triumph for former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who announced his return to politics last September. The conservative UMP will take over 66 to 70 of France’s 101 departements, up from 41.
The second round of local elections was a huge blow to current President Hollande’s Socialists who lost approximately half of their previously held 61 departements.
Although Marine Le Pen’s anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front managed to increase massively on its previous one elected councilor, with another 61 of its candidates being elected, the party still only holds less than 2 percent of France’s 4,108 council seats, meaning that they will be unable to control any of the country’s departements.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, whose deeply unpopular administration had tried to play up modest signs of recovery in the euro zone’s second largest economy, conceded defeat and said the government would introduce new measures aimed at boosting employment and public and private investment. “The far right’s strong, much too strong, results are a challenge to all democrats,” he said. “This is a sign of a lasting upheaval of our political landscape and we will all need to draw lessons from it.”
The FN, which topped last year’s European Parliament elections in France, is aiming to make more progress in regional polls in December. Surveys see Le Pen likely to make it to the second round of the presidential election in 2017, but not win.