Hollande gets a drubbing in French municipal elections

Paris elected its first female mayor on Sunday night, but the victory for socialist Anne Hidalgo was “an isolated piece of good news” for President François Hollande, says Kim Willsher in The Guardian. His Socialist Party took a drubbing in municipal elections, losing 175 cities and towns.

Although the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) was the biggest winner, the far-right National Front took 11 towns, beating its previous late 1990s record of four.

With the economy “sluggish, unemployment soaring and presidential approval at a record low”, a loss of support was to be expected, says The Independent. But record low turnout (63.5%) and some “nasty surprises” indicate unusually high voter disaffection.

Across France, the National Front won only 6% of the vote, and remains as “shambolic and unprofessional” as ever. Even so, Marine Le Pen’s progress “cannot be easily dismissed”.

She is more credible than her father and the rise of the far right is mirrored across Europe as “economic inequalities and concerns at a perceived loss of identity leave voters tempted by extremes”. She has “distanced herself” from her father’s racism and focused on “bread-and-butter issues”, agrees PhilippeMarliere in The Guardian.

She is critical of globalisation and finance and wants to leave the eurozone and the European Union. “In short, she has reinvented herself as a politician on the side of ‘ordinary folks’.

Hollande, meanwhile, is “dramatically unpopular”, derided as the ‘president of the rich’, a “socialist who cuts taxes on the wealthy while raising VAT for all”. He has stuck to Nicolas Sarkozy’s austerity policies, even as unemployment and public debt have soared.

For all the company tax rebates, the economy is not growing. Having broken his campaign promises, Hollande is now “widely regarded as the supine ally of big business and Angela Merkel”.

In response, he has sacked his prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, and appointed a replacement, Manuel Valls, known for his hardline stance on immigration. It is a calculated risk, says Hugh Carnegy in the Financial Times.

Valls is a “highly divisive” Blairite figure for the Left. In an article he wrote for the FT in 2009, he said there was “no longer an alternative to the capitalist system and market economy” and dismissed the term “socialist” as outdated.

Hollande will hope that his “public popularity, tough reputation and strong communications” will outweigh party suspicions. Valls himself was at pains to identify himself as a socialist this week, declaring himself ready to “respond to demands for social justice”. Expect more of the same.

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