French left takes charge of Senate

François Hollande is the new favorite to be the Socialist Party's presidential candidate in 2012.

Story highlights

  • The French Senate is chosen by elected officials
  • The Socialists have never held a majority in the Senate during the Fifth Republic
  • The development could be a bad sign for President Sarkozy
The Socialist Party was celebrating its victory Monday and looking forward to a stronger position going into the upcoming presidential elections after taking control of the French Senate for the first time since the Fifth Republic was founded in 1958.
The results from the indirect elections held Sunday showed that the left now controls 177 Senate seats, two more than the 175 needed for an absolute majority.
"The 25 of September 2011, will go down in history," Jean Pierre Bel, the Socialist's leader in the Senate told French media Sunday evening.
The historic victory comes just seven months before France's presidential election in April and is viewed by many as a blow to President Nicolas Sarkozy and his conservative party.
"Nicolas Sarkozy will be the president who lost the right's majority in the Senate," said François Hollande, the new favorite to be the Socialist presidential candidate in 2012 after Dominique Strauss Kahn's campaign faltered when he was arrested in New York in May on charges of attempting to rape a hotel maid. Prosecutors later dropped the charges.
Jean-Francois Cope, head of Sarkozy's UMP party, admitted the results marked a "defeat which was disappointing but not a surprise due to the successive local defeats since 2004."
France's Prime Minister François Fillon issued a statement saying the left had made a "strong breakthrough."
"The moment of truth will come next spring. The battle begins tonight," he said.
Politicians and analysts speculated on Monday what this defeat would mean for Sarkozy and his chances of winning the next presidential election.
"Today, the power no longer has free rein, Nicolas Sarkozy can no longer do what he wants," Pierre Moscovici , a Socialist party member said Monday morning.
Political analyst Stéphane Rozès told French radio Europe 1 last Thursday it would be a bad sign for the presidency.
"Obviously if the left takes control of the Senate, it will reinforce a general feeling that the reign of Nicolas Sarkozy is coming to an end," said Rozès.
The Senate is chosen by 72,000 elected officials such as mayors and regional councilors.