PARIS -- Voters in Paris elected their first female mayor on Sunday as Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo won the keys to City Hall after a closely fought campaign.
Hidalgo’s victory was one of the day's rare successes for French President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party, which lost ground in municipal elections around the country.
The Spanish-born Hidalgo, 54, who defeated her rival in a tight second-round vote, will take over City Hall from her mentor, popular Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who has run the French capital since 2001.
“I am the first female mayor of Paris," she told journalists. "I am conscious of the challenge that represents.”
Hidalgo, who has been deputy mayor since 2001, once described running Paris as “the best elected job that exists.”
Under France’s complicated local election system, early figures showed Hidalgo’s list of candidates in Paris won 55% of the votes to 42% polled by that of her rival, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet from the center-right Union for a Popular Movement party, or UMP.
Kosciusko-Morizet surprised many by coming in first in last Sunday’s first-round vote with 35% to Hidalgo's 34%. For the second round, Hidalgo joined forces with the Ecology and Green party.
The National Front -- whose leader Marine Le Pen has attempted to give the party, once considered overtly racist and xenophobic, a new respectability -- won control of at least 10 municipalities, according to early results. At least six major cities formerly held by the left were among those taken by the far-right party, the newspaper Le Monde reported.
The final vote count will not be confirmed before Monday, but early estimates gave about 45% of the vote nationwide to UMP, 40% to the Socialists and nearly 7% to the National Front, with the remainder to candidates without parties.
The National Front had hoped for even greater gains, after the first round of voting last Sunday. But when it came to the second round, some of its support seemed to evaporate.
The party has now set its sights on making gains in the European Parliament in elections to be held in May.
Hollande was elected in 2012 on a ticket of creating growth and jobs and dragging France out of the economic crisis. He also promised to rein in public spending and cut jobs in national and local administrations to help bring about the necessary structural reforms to enable France to compete in Europe and the rest of the world.
Since then figures have shown that the number of jobless, France’s primary concern, has continued to rise.
Hollande is expected to announce a shuffle of key government ministers this week, possibly as early as Monday.
Many people shunned the polling stations Sunday. The 38% rate of abstention was seen as reflecting the public’s disillusionment with the country’s ruling class, left or right.
"It’s difficult to reform a country like France," Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici told the state-run France 2 television. "This is undoubtedly a defeat for us."
Willsher is a special correspondent.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times