PARIS (AFP) – Just three years after France’s upper house Senate made history with its first ever swing to the left, the right is expected to claw back a majority Sunday in a new setback for Socialist President Francois Hollande.
The far-right National Front could also win a seat for the first time, as more than 87,500 regional and local elected officials nationwide vote for their preferred candidate, six months after the Socialists suffered a drubbing in municipal polls that saw the right make significant gains.
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 would come 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 appear to be turning again. Sarkozy has returned to politics with a bid to stand for the presidency of the centre-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.