President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party has lost its majority in the French Senate.
Marine Le Pen’s National Front has won its first two seats in the upper chamber, but the majority went to the mainstream conservatives.
Le Pen claims victory
Le Pen, who succeeded her father, Jean-Marie, as party leader three years ago, hailed the result as an “absolutely historic victory,” which she said would represent a “breath of fresh air in a rather sleepy chamber.”
Polls suggest Le Pen, who campaigns for lower immigration and a French withdrawal from the euro currency, could beat Hollande in a runoff.
However, the political comeback of former president Nicolas Sarkozy has poured cold water on Le Pen’s ambitions.
If they were to face off in a second voting round in 2017, Sarkozy, who is yet to be elected party leader, would more likely prevail.
Low growth and high unemployment have caused Hollande’s popularity to plummet. Whereas he defeated Sarkozy with 52 percent support in the 2012 election, his approval ratings now hover between 13 and 17 percent.
Disunity on the left
Only three years ago did the left win an upper-house majority for the first time since Charles de Gaulle founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958. The Socialists governed in a coalition with the Greens.
But the Greens pulled their support from Hollande’s government when he named Manuel Valls as prime minister in April.
Valls, a centrist whose appointment was seen as an attempt on Hollande’s part to reassure businesses, came to power after the Socialists lost the municipal elections the month before.
The Socialists also lost the European Parliament elections in May, when the National Front got almost 25 percent of the votes.
The right placed second with 20 percent support.
The loss of his Senate majority need not derail Hollande’s program. The upper chamber is unable to block legislation.
But it does mark a further setback.
Senatorial elections are held every three years, when half of the body’s members are chosen for six-year terms by electoral colleges of representatives from departments in metropolitan France and overseas.
The system usually benefits the political right, which is stronger in the countryside.