Hollande braces for losses in low turnout for French mayoral vote
France's ruling Socialists braced for big losses in local elections today and the far-right National Front was poised to win a handful of cities for the first time since 1995, as turnout looked set to hit a new low.
The runoff round of voting comes at the end of a week that saw French unemployment surge to a new record, making a reverse of first-round losses by the Socialists unlikely and a cabinet reshuffle by President Francois Hollande possible as soon as tomorrow.
Some 80 percent of the French want him to dismiss Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, according to a Harris Interactive poll this week, and ambitious and tough-talking Interior Minister Manuel Valls is their favourite to replace him.
"I can't see how (Ayrault) could stay, unless we save about 30 towns, something nobody really believes," a Socialist Party source said.
The Interior Ministry said 52.36 percent of eligible voters had gone to the polls by 1500 GMT, over 2 points lower than by the same time in the last municipal elections in 2008.
"It looks like a new abstention record will be set, it's not good news," Bernard Sananes, head of the CSA polling institute told BFM-TV, although the move to summer time, with clocks going forward an hour, meant the rate should be treated with caution.
An Ifop-SAS poll predicted a final turnout of 61.5 percent.
Final turnout last Sunday was 63.5 percent - considered low in a country with a strong attachment to its mayors, who wield considerable local power.
Most polling stations will close at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) although some in big cities will remain open two hours longer.
Dissatisfaction with Hollande's tenure and a string of legal intrigues involving opposition conservatives were expected to dampen turnout. Next presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2017.
The streets of Paris were quiet near the old stock exchange building in the centre, without the queues at polling stations typically seen on an election day.
"I'm scandalised by these imbeciles who don't vote," Yann Dedet, a 67-year-old cinema producer, told Reuters after casting his ballot "for the left, of course".
A high abstention rate was expected to help the anti-immigrant FN win in the depressed post-industrial north and in southern towns such as Beziers or Frejus.