The right and the far Right made big gains in the first round of municipal elections held in 36,000 towns across France on Sunday.

The right-wing UMP of former president Nicolas Sarkozy and the far-right National Front led by Marine Le Pen together garnered about 52 percent of the votes – some 47% and 5%, receptively. The Socialist Party of President François Hollande managed about 38%, with the Green candidates and the Radical Party of the Left getting most of the rest.

Some 38.5% of the electorate stayed home, the highest level of non-participation since the Fifth Republic was created in 1958, and 4.5 percentage points more than in the previous local elections six years ago. Political analysts said the high abstention rate was very positive for the opposition (the Right), and was due to “economic pessimism in the country” and a “rejection of the political class.”

Most observers are talking about a “vote of sanction” against the government’s politics, and in particular against Hollande, the most unpopular French head of state ever.

If the vote is confirmed in the second round next Sunday, when most municipalities will hold runoffs, he may to dismissing prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, and replace him with the popular interior minister, Manuel Valls.

Valls has fought continually against anti-Semitism and the rise of Islamism, and recently said in a speech that anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism.

Perhaps the biggest triumphs for the National Front came in the small town of Henin-Beaumont, in Pas-de- Calais, until now a socialist municipality and where Marine Le Pen was a losing candidate in last National Assembly elections.

“It is a great and beautiful victory,” she told journalists, describing the victory of her candidate, Florian Philippot, the vice president of the National Front.

The strong move to the Right was not entirely welcomed by the main rightwing party, the UMP, which has seen the Front National make a major advance, stealing some of its expected support.

“The results are worrying,” Sarkozy’s ex-advisor Henri Guaino said.

In Paris, there is a close all-female race for mayor: Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the spokeswoman for Sarkozy and the UMP during the presidential elections in 2012, is in the lead after the first round with 34.8%, followed closely by Anne Hidalgo of the Socialist Party, with 33.6%. In Marseilles, incumbent Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin of the UMP is leading with 33.5%, and in Pau, in the Pyrenees, François Bayrou, the former presidential candidate of the Center, won an outright victory in Sunday’s first round.

This swing to the Right, and in particular to the far Right, is a major setback for Hollande and his Socialist government.

They are engaged in an all-out cultural battle against the National Front, considering it to be a danger to the French Republic, a view shared by most of the Jewish community.

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