- Hollande's Socialists relegated to third place behind Sarkozy
- Elections were held amid high security with army patrols
France’s far-right National Front is on course for an unprecedented victory in the first round of regional elections, dealing an electoral blow to President Francois Hollande three weeks after terrorist attacks in Paris.
The anti-euro, anti-immigrant party of Marine Le Pen led in six out of 12 regions in mainland France Sunday, increasing its share of the vote nationally to 28 percent from 11 percent in the last regional vote in 2010, the Interior Ministry said. The Republicans of former President Nicolas Sarkozy took 27 percent, and Hollande’s Socialists 23.3 percent, though both mainstream blocs will be able to draw support from smaller allies in next Sunday’s second round that may save control over regional legislatures.
“It’s a major score for the National Front,” Brice Teinturier, deputy head of the pollster Ipsos, said on France 2 television. “They’ve benefited from the attacks, they’ve benefited from the migrant crisis.”
The regional vote was the first electoral test for Hollande since the Paris attacks that killed 130 and prompted his attempts to marshal a united front against Islamic State. Held amid tight security, policemen and soldiers were seen patrolling the streets of Paris while bags were searched at polling station entrances.
Polls suggest that after the Dec. 13 second round, Le Pen’s National Front could win control of two regions for the first time: Nord-Pas de Calais in the far north and Provence Cote-d’Azur in the south.
“We welcome this magnificent result with humility and seriousness,” Le Pen said from Henin Beaumont in northern France. “We have the ability to achieve the national unity that the country needs.”
Hollande’s approval rating has jumped 20 percentage points in the past month to 35 percent, the highest since February 2013, according to a TNS Sofres poll published Wednesday, as the French largely approved of his response to last month’s attacks. But his rising popularity hasn’t filtered through to his party at the ballot box.
Though the power of French regions is mostly limited to infrastructure spending and tourism promotion, running a region provides both local bases and national platforms for the victors. The vote is also the last national electoral test before the presidential election in April 2017.
Sarkozy, who is head of The Republicans nationally and is preparing for another run at the presidency, appealed to National Front voters to consider his party when they return to the polls next week.
“I want to say all of those who chose them that we understand their concern, but they’ll find no solution in a party that will significantly aggravate the problems of France,” he said.
The National Front led in six of the 12 regions of mainland France, The Republicans in four and the Socialists in two. Even so, if Socialist allies are included, their share of the vote rises to more than 35 percent and similarly The Republicans and allies had a total of about 33 percent, meaning both can expect to finish the second round of voting with more legislators than initial results suggest.
The National Front has for decades called for reduced immigration and for France to retake control of its borders as well as its currency. In the current atmosphere of insecurity and rising unemployment, Le Pen says she predicted many of the problems besetting the country today, as did her father, former National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
“The strength of the National Front is that increasingly they are seen as an alternative to the failure of the governing parties,” Frederic Dabi, a pollster at Ifop, said on I-tele.