FRENCH Prime Minister Manuel Valls scrambled to find positives in first-round local election results yesterday, in which his ruling Socialist Party was beaten into third place.
Marine Le Pen’s fascist Front National (FN) came second in Sunday’s vote with 25 per cent of the vote, just behind Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party and its allies, who took 29 per cent.
The Socialists and their allies won just 21.5 per cent, according to the Interior Ministry’s official results.
The Communist Party and Front de Gauche scored about 9.4 per cent, well up on the 6.5 per cent won last year in the municipal and European elections.
But Mr Valls said yesterday that he was “pleased in some way” that the FN support was not as high as expected.
“The extreme right, though it is too high, is not at the forefront,” Mr Valls claimed.
“When we mobilise the French, it works.”
He called on left-of-centre candidates including communists and environmentalists to unite with Socialists for the second round next Sunday.
“We will continue to fight” against the FN, he pledged.
President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party has lost every election since coming into office in 2012.
The results mean the second round will in many places be a race between the UMP and the FN.
Wherever Socialist candidates have been eliminated — about a quarter of the second-round elections — Mr Valls called on voters to choose anyone running against a FN candidate.
But UMP leader Mr Sarkozy urged his supporters to abstain in the second round if no conservative candidate was running.
Before the elections for 2,000 local councils, the Socialists had urged people to vote, hoping that turnout would blunt the rise of the far right.
In the event, turnout was 51 per cent, compared with about 45 per cent in similar elections in 2011.
The Socialists are deeply unpopular after the government’s failure to turn round France’s economy and its harsh austerity measures.
And both they and the UMP are torn by infighting which, to some extent, left the FN something of an open field for the first round.
by Our Foreign Desk