French Vote in Local Elections as National Front Gains

French voters are taking part in the final round of municipal elections, a week after initial results showed the anti-euro National Front party gaining ground on disappointment with the ruling Socialists.

Ballots are being cast today in the 6,455 towns where a mayor didn’t win an absolute majority on March 23. Polls opened at 8:00 a.m. and will shut between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., depending on the size of the town.

These are the first nationwide elections since President Francois Hollande took office in May 2012 and present a test of his government’s popularity. Following poor results in the first round, the Socialist politician plans to make changes to his cabinet and may replace Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, according to French media such as the Journal du Dimanche.

The gains by the National Front in 36,000 French municipalities on March 23 reflect discontent with Hollande after 22 months in office and infighting among lawmakers from Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party. Jobless claims are at a record of more than 3 million, and France’s economy has barely grown in two years.

The National Front estimated that it won 472 council seats in the first round and has 315 candidates on the slate today. The party led in initial balloting in mayoral elections in cities including Perpignan, Nimes, Avignon and Frejus, according to the Interior Ministry.

Seventy-eight percent of French respondents said they wanted Ayrault replaced after today’s municipal elections, according to a Harris poll for LCP television published March 27. Among the possible contenders to be picked by Hollande as prime minister, 19 percent of the 998 people surveyed in the Internet poll favor Interior Minister Manuel Valls, 13 percent want Lille Mayor Martine Aubry and 10 percent prefer Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. No margin of error was provided.