First time in 50 years, French right loses control of the Senate

The French Senate at the Palais du Luxembourg

From Elaine Ganley, the AP:  France’s left wrested the Senate from the right in indirect elections Sunday, taking the majority of seats in the upper house of parliament for the first time in more than 50 years – a blow to conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Seven months before presidential elections, Sarkozy’s party downplayed what it said was a narrow win – up to three seats, according to various officials of the president’s party.

The minister for parliamentary relations, Patrick Ollier, said the results have "no national political significance." Final results of the voting to fill half the seats in the 348-seat house were not in, but the Socialist’s leader in the Senate announced the victory.

"This is a day that will mark history," Jean-Pierre Bel, head of the Senate’s Socialist group, announced in the gilded hall of the 17th-century palace. . . .

The upper house of parliament, a sumptuous 17th century palace at the foot of the Luxembourg Gardens, is sometimes derided as an institution that specializes in handing out rubber stamps. Nevertheless, it is an axis of power that can initiate bills and, above all, slow down their passage.

The right had controlled the Senate since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958.

"For the first time, change is in motion … This is a real affront to the right," Bel said.

He estimated the left won 24 to 26 new seats. It needed 23 seats to gain a majority. Final results were not immediately expected. . . .

Socialists attributed their success to discontent in France’s towns and rural heartland, the home bases of the 71,890 delegates, regionally and locally elected officials, who cast ballots to fill the 170 seats. Senators elected Sunday have six-year mandates.  (photo: Getty)

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