Paris elected its first female mayor on Sunday night, but the victory for socialist Anne Hidalgo was an isolated piece of good news for PresidentFrançois Hollande‘s embattled party as the far-right Front National (FN) appeared on course to win a record number of town halls.

“I am the first woman mayor of Paris. I am aware of the challenge,” Hidalgo said in a victory speech after defeating the candidate of the conservative right, former minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.

Provisional results from Sunday’s voting showed the protectionist, anti-EU Front National party of Marine Le Pen set to take control of 11 towns across the country, easily surpassing a past record in the 1990s when it ruled in four towns.

At least 140 more towns swung from the left to mainstream opposition conservatives as voters punished Hollande for his failure to turn around the eurozone’s second-largest economy and above all to tackle an unemployment rate stuck at more than 10%.

While Hollande himself – who surveys show is the least popular leader in France’s 56-year-old Fifth Republic – will remain in power, the question is whether he will replace the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, whose government has been accused of amateurishness and of being paralysed by policy splits.

“This evening is a moment of truth. There is no getting away from it: this vote is a defeat for the government … and I take my part of the blame,” Ayrault told national television late on Sunday.

“The president will draw the lessons from this vote and he will do it in the best interests of France,” he said, without commenting on his own fate.

An exit poll by survey group BVA showed Hollande’s allies winning just 42% of the popular vote against 49% for the French right.

“The glass ceiling has been shattered,” said Le Pen, who has sought to make her party more acceptable to French voters. “No one can seriously deny this has been a huge victory for us.”… see more