The ruling Socialists are on the back foot in the second round of municipal elections in France, while the far-right National Front looks poised to claim control of as many as a dozen mid-sized towns.
Voters were seemingly sluggish getting out of bed on election morning in France, which coincided with the European clocks going forward by an hour. The French Interior Ministry put turnout as of midday at just under 20 percent, less than in the first round.
Last Sunday's turnout of 63.55 percent, which might be considered respectable in many democracies, was a record low for a French municipal vote.
President Francois Hollande's Socialists and other left-of-center parties struggled against center-right rivals the UMP, both in terms of the popular vote and key battlegrounds. Cities currently under Socialist control that appeared under threat based on first round results included Strasbourg, Toulouse, Saint-Etienene, and Metz. Even the race to become Paris' first female mayor, between Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo and conservative Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, looked considerably closer than expected after the first round.
Furthermore, the ultra-nationalist National Front (FN) led by Marine Le Pen scored strongly in several towns around the country. Le Pen estimated in an interview on Friday with daily Le Monde that FN candidates had a shot at becoming mayor in "around a dozen" towns, saying this was the internal target she had set ahead of the vote. The National Front sometimes fares more poorly in runoff votes, if mainstream voters cast a tactical ballot to try to keep the FN out of office.
In the event of an embarrassing showing at the polls on Sunday, the French press have reported that Hollande is likely to reshuffle his government in response. Hollande himself is facing record-low approval ratings, roughly two years after defeating the UMP's Nicolas Sarkozy in presidential elections.
Popular Interior Minister Manuel Valls has been broadly tipped as a possible candidate to replace Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault if Hollande decides to shuffle his legislative deck.
msh/mz (AFP, dpa)