Socialists ahead, government shaken as French local elections end with mixed message

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The second and final round of partial regional elections across France on March 27th saw a clear victory for the parties of the left, which are now set to control 64 of the country's 100 départements, the administrative regions broadly equivalent to a county. But the elections, the last before next year's presidential poll, have also sounded a grave warning for the mainstream parties, with a strong show of support for the far-right Front National and a 55 percent abstention rate. Stéphane Alliès and Lénaïg Bredoux report.

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The second and final round of partial regional elections across France on March 27th saw a clear victory for the parties of the left, which are now set to control 64 of the country's 100 départements, the administrative regions broadly equivalent to a county. Stéphane Alliès and Lénaïg Bredoux report.

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The abstention rate in the second round was a massive 55.3%, and which reached 55.6% in the first round one week earlier, together the highest recorded in these elections called to choose councilors for the assemblies that administer France's départements.

This and the surge in support for the far-right Front National (FN) has shaken the mainstream left and right. While the FN claimed 11.7% of all votes cast, it reached 40% of votes in many of those constituencies where it was represented in the second round play-off.

Each département is divided up into electoral constituencies called cantons, and which total 4,039 nationwide, including those of four French overseas regions. One councilor from each canton sits on the assemblies that govern the départements.

Just more than half - 2,026 cantons - were involved in the elections this month, when 21 million people were called to the runs, and which were roughly equivalent to county council elections.

The broad left, (including the Socialist Party, the Green alliance Europe Ecologie-Les Verts, the Front de Gauche radical left alliance), scored 49.9%, ahead of the ruling conservative right UMP and its allies with 35.87%, and the FN with 11.7%. The left has won the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, and Jura départements and is likely to gain control, through alliances for the election of council leaders, of four others; the Loire, the Savoie and two French Indian Ocean overseas départements, Mayotte and La Réunion.

The poll on Sunday was the last before presidential elections in 2012, and the results offered mixed warnings for both left and right mainstream parties.

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This article is a compilation of extracts from Mediapart's coverage of the second round of the local 'canton' elections played out March 27th.