French President Hollande Suffers Setback in Local Elections

PARIS—France’s Socialist President François Hollande suffered an electoral setback Sunday, according to exit polls, as his predecessor and political nemesis Nicolas Sarkozy led a center-right alliance to take a sweeping majority in local elections.

The second round of voting Sunday also confirmed a breakthrough in local politics for Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front, which took between 40 and 80 seats across the country. That may not be enough for a majority in any jurisdiction, but represents a leap from one seat currently.

Mr. Sarkozy’s UMP party and centrist allies won in 1200 to 1250 of the 2,054 constituencies that were up for grabs over the two rounds of voting, according to Opinionway. Mr. Hollande’s Socialists and other leftist groups won only between 650 to 700 in the election where around 50% of eligible voters cast a ballot.

“The French people have massively rejected the policies of President Hollande and his government,” said Mr. Sarkozy, addressing cheering supporters.

The results mean the center-right is likely to take control of around 65 of the 101 départements, a sharp rise from 41 currently and more than the 60 the Socialist Party and other leftist allies controlled before Sunday, according to Opinionway.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the victory of the center-right alliance was “incontestable.” He also warned of the significance of the result for the National Front.

“The scores for the far right are a challenge for all republicans. It’s the mark of a sustainable shift in the political landscape,” Mr. Valls said.

Winning seats in the local elections gives parties power in a range of areas from tourism development to the upkeep of schools and roads and the payment of welfare benefits.

Sunday’s results are also a barometer of the political balance in France with two years to go until presidential and legislative elections.