France's ruling Socialist party and it leader Francois Hollande took a drubbing in local elections Sunday from the conservative UMP party led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy and the far-right National Front - or FN - party with its anti-immigration and anti-Islam platform.
Voters went to the run-off polls to choose 4,108 people who will sit on 98 local councils.
The Socialists lost about half of their councils to the conservatives UMP party, opening the way for Sarkozy to mount a campaign for another bid at the presidency in 2017.
"Through their vote, the French people have massively rejected the policies of Francois Hollande and his government. The disavowal with respect to the governing power cannot be disputed. Never has a majority lost so many local councils. Never has a sitting government given rise to such defiance and rejection. Never has a political party embodied such failure at all levels,” said Hollande.
The FN did not win an entire council, but scores of its candidates across the country won seats on local councils. The FN wins are seen as the beginning of grassroots support for the presidential campaign for the group's leader, Marine Le Pen, who has been outspoken in her views against immigration and the integration of Islam into French society.
"The objective is getting closer, get into power and implement our ideas to straighten things out in France, give it back its freedom, its safety, its prosperity. Impoverishment, mass unemployment, the destruction of our identity are not inevitable. The failure of successive UMP-PS governments will be able to step aside so the patriot can come forward and that's a great hope for millions of French people today," said Le Pen.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls acknowledged the "setback" for the Socialists and said the far-right FN's gains were "too high."
Valls also said France had declared its "anger at a daily life that is too difficult" and promised to "redouble" the government's efforts to revive the French economy, the second largest in the eurozone.