The Socialists were routed in the second round of French elections this weekend. The centre-right UMP party led by Nicholas Sarkozy was the clear winner but Marine Le Pen’s National Front had it best performance ever at the local level although it did not win any départements.

The Financial Times reports Nicolas Sarkozy the winner as French local polls deal blow to Socialists.

The UMP, led by the former president Nicolas Sarkozy and in an election coalition with the centrist UDI party, won between 66 and 70 départements compared with 41 previously, according to projections from polling companies.

By contrast, the Socialist party looked to have held on to between only 27 and 31 — barely half the 61 départements it controlled before.

The far-right National Front (FN), meanwhile, appeared to have made considerable ground in Sunday’s second-round vote — though it was unclear if it had done enough to win full control of any départements.

Even so, the anti-immigration, anti-euro party led by Marine Le Pen is likely to have done much to boost its national presence as it looks ahead to the 2017 presidential election. The FN has made important gains in recent years, wooing voters from both left and right, disillusioned by the lack of economic growth and high unemployment.

Following on the back of last year’s success in European elections over France’s two mainstream parties, Ms Le Pen called Sunday’s result “the foundation of tomorrow’s big victories”.

Sarkozy and Le Pen Triumph in French Local Elections

The Guardian reports Hollande Left Bruised as Sarkozy and Le Pen Triumph in French Local Elections

Front National’s strong gains mark turning point for far right in expanding grassroots presence, while win for Sarkozy prefigures likely presidential run.

 The French right has made large gains in the country’s local elections, handing President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist party its third electoral drubbing in a year and raising fears for the future of the left.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s rightwing UMP party, in coalition with centrist allies, took the largest share of seats, wresting control of many traditional leftwing bastions from the Socialists.

But key to the changing political landscape in France was the strong showing for the far-right Front National, which marked a major turning-point as the party established a new grassroots presence across the country.

After winning only two local council seats at the last election in 2011, Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration and anti-Europe party was on track to win as many as 90 councillors, cementing the Front National’s transformation from what was once a simple national protest vote to a locally anchored movement that Le Pen hopes to use as a springboard for her presidential bid in 2017.

Although the Front National did not win outright control of any département local council, its percentage score rose sharply from the last local elections.

Le Pen hailed her party’s best result in a local election as a “magnificent success”.

The Socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls, said: “The very high – too high – score of the far-right represents, more than ever, a challenge to all republicans.”

He said the Front National’s success marked a “lasting upheaval” of the French political landscape and all political parties had to learn lessons from it.

The local elections, followed by the regional elections in December, have been seen as a barometer for 2017’s presidential race. Several polls have shown that Le Pen could make into the second-round presidential runoff vote in 2017, knocking out either the left or right.

Most pollsters agree that Le Pen could never gain enough votes in the final round to win the presidency. But her potential presence in a runoff has worried the mainstream left and right. Socialists are keen to avoid their candidate being knocked out, as happened when Jean-Marie Le Pen knocked out Lionel Jospin in 2002.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock