Europe

L'entrée du Palais du Luxembourg, siège du Sénat, le 27 septembre 2014 à Paris
Senate veers to the right in 'historic victory' for far-right party and another blow to Hollande's Socialists

The French far-right Front National party for the first time in history won seats in the Senate, party leader Marine Le Pen announced Sunday.

"This is a great victory for the FN, an absolutely historic victory," Le Pen told AFP. "This is the first time that we return to the Senate and in such a beautiful way with two senators," she said, referring to FN members David Rachline Var and Stephane Ravier, who were both elected.

According to Le Pen, the election of Ravier and Rachline "demonstrates our dynamism, which is growing from one election to the next."

Just three years after France's upper house Senate made history with its first ever swing to the left, the right has presented a new setback for Socialist President Francois Hollande.

More than 87,500 regional and local elected officials nationwide voted for their preferred candidate, six months after the Socialists suffered a drubbing in municipal polls that saw the right make significant gains.

Philippe Huguen (AFP/Archives)

France's upper house is not chosen by universal suffrage but by a "super-electorate" of elected representatives who vote to renew roughly half of the Senate every three years.

While the Senate does not wield as much influence as the lower house National Assembly -- which has the final say on voting bills through -- a swing to the right comes as another blow for Hollande who has become the most unpopular president in modern French history.

His Socialist government has struggled to contain an economic crisis in France, where zero-growth, sky-high unemployment, a bulging deficit and heavy taxes are taking their toll.

Plans to redraw the map of France, cutting the number of regions from 22 to 13, have also proven controversial.

And an explosive kiss-and-tell by Hollande's former partner Valerie Trierweiler painting him as a power-crazed leader who secretly despises the poor has done nothing to boost his image.

Right-wing parties had controlled the Senate since the Fifth Republic was founded in 1958, but in 2011, the upper house flipped to the left in a historic move that planted the seeds for then-president Nicolas Sarkozy's eventual defeat to Hollande in 2012 presidential elections.

"Nicolas Sarkozy will go down in history as the president who lost the right its majority in the Senate," Hollande declared at the time.

Three years on, the tables turned again.

Sarkozy has returned to politics with a bid to stand for the presidency of the center-right UMP opposition party, and while he has not overtly declared he is eyeing the 2017 presidential election, there is little doubt it is his end-game.

The Socialists, meanwhile, suffered a drubbing in local and European elections this year and the government has already been through two cabinet reshuffles as it tries to battle the political and economic crisis.

(with AFP)

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