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Right-wing UMP claims major victory in local French ballots

French UMP party leader Nicolas Sarkozy gives a speech following election results on March 29, 2015
French UMP party leader Nicolas Sarkozy gives a speech following election results on March 29, 2015 Eric Feferberg, AFP

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and centrist allies on Sunday won control of an overwhelming majority of departments in France, in a major blow to the ruling Socialist Party.


The UMP, in coalition with moderates from the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI), claimed as many as 70 out of a possible 98 departments as voters punished President François Hollande’s embattled government.

“The results [of the election] went far beyond local concerns. With their ballots French voters have massively rejected the policies of François Hollande and his government,” Sarkozy told supporters gathered at the UMP’s headquarters in Paris shortly after the first exit polls appeared around 8pm local time.

The UMP’s celebration was crowned by a handful of symbolic victories, including in the central Corrèze department – home to François Hollande and under Socialist control since 2008.

Earlier Prime Minister Manuel Valls admitted on live television that his Socialist Party had suffered clear setbacks, blaming “distractions” and “divisions” among the left.

He also recognised the steady progression of the far-right.

"This is a sign of a lasting upheaval of our political landscape and we will all need to draw lessons from it," Valls said in reference to the far-right gains across the country. However, the tough-talking PM did not announce any major policy changes.

In an exception to Sunday’s general trend toward the right, the southern department of Lozère passed to Socialist hands, interior ministry results showed.

No FN wins

Despite historically high scores at the local level, the far-right National Front (FN) failed to win majority control of any departmental councils.

France’s CSA polling firm said FN candidates had finished first in at least 43 cantons, the geographical units that make up French departments, but did not have enough councillors to take control of any departments.

“I don’t think there will be any National Front departments,” deputy party leader Florian Philippot said on television on Sunday evening.

Earlier, party leader Marine Le Pen avoided the issue of how many departments her anti-immigration party would gain, claiming voters were steadily turning away from France’s mainstream parties.

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