Paris | France’s far-right National Front has seen record gains in the first round of regional polls, held under a state of emergency just three weeks after extremists killed 130 people in Paris. Despite the strong result, it faces an uphill battle to clinch a run-off vote next week after Socialists withdrew candidates in an attempt to block it from power.
The National Front (FN) came first with around 28 per cent of the vote nationwide and topped the list in at least six of 13 regions, according to final estimates from the interior ministry yesterday. FN leader Marine Le Pen and her 25-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen broke the symbolic 40 per cent mark in their respective regions, shattering previous records for the party as they tapped into voter anger over a stagnant economy and security fears linked to Europe’s refugee crisis.
Marine Le Pen, a lawyer by training, welcomed the magnificent result, saying it proved the FN was without contest the first party of France. A grouping of right-wing parties took 27 per cent, the official estimates showed, while the ruling Socialist Party and its allies took 23.5 per cent. The polls were held under tight security following France’s worst-ever terror attacks, which have thrust the FN’s anti-immigration and often Islamophobic message to the fore.
Around half the 45 million registered voters took part in the polls. Any party which secures 10 per cent backing in the first round has the right to present candidates in the second round, due next Sunday. Final estimates showed 47-year-old Le Pen taking a whopping 40.5 per cent of the vote in the economically depressed northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, once a bastion of the left. Marechal-Le Pen did equally well in the vast southeastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, known for its glamorous beaches and stunning countryside.
The far-right success triggered an immediate debate among the mainstream parties as to whether, in regions where they trailed third, they should urge voters to back the candidate opposing the FN. Socialist leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said his party would withdraw from the second round in the regions Le Pen and her niece were leading in order to block the FN. But former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, head of The Republicans, which leads the right-wing grouping, repeated his refusal to do the same in key polls where the Socialists were the strongest opposition.
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