French President François Hollande announced that he would replace Jean-Marc Ayrault (centre) with Manuel Valls (right) as prime minister in a cabinet reshuffle intended to mark a fresh start after Socialists took a beating in local elections.
Ayrault, who stepped down earlier today, started off as the most popular prime minister in 50 years, but soon became the target of blame for Hollande’s inability to effect the change he had promised while campaigning for office.
"It is time today to open a new chapter," Hollande said in his televised remarks, proceeding to note that the new cabinet would be tighter.
He also said there would be tax cuts by 2017.
The change-up at the top of Hollande’s administration was widely expected given the outcome of the municipal elections, the first nationwide vote since Hollande won the presidency in 2012.
The municipal results saw the National Front (FN) take control of 11 towns and claim more than 1,200 municipal council seats nationwide, its best ever showing at the grassroots level of French politics and a stunning vindication of leader Marine Le Pen's efforts to extend its appeal.
It was also a night to savour for France's main opposition, the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).
The party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy performed strongly across the country, seizing control of around 140 towns and cities, including some once considered bastions of the left.
In a rare consolation for Hollande, the Socialists held on to control of Paris, where Anne Hidalgo, 54, will become the first female mayor of the French capital after a victory that was far more comfortable than anyone had expected.
Nationwide, the UMP and its allies took just under 46 percent of the votes cast, the Socialists and other left-wing parties 40.5 percent and the FN and some smaller far right groups just under seven percent.
The rout for the Socialists is widely seen as a punishment for Hollande’s failure to turn around the euro zone's second largest economy and to tackle an unemployment rate stuck at more than 10 percent.
These failures are thought to have aggravated anger over other issues, such as crime and immigration, and increased disillusionment with mainstream politicians of all stripes.
The Socialists were not helped by a turnout estimated at around 62 percent of the electorate, which is low by French local election standards and was largely explained by large numbers of left-leaning voters staying at home.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-03-31