French Voters Go to Polls in Hollande's First Post-Attacks Test

  • Turnout by late afternoon higher than in previous elections
  • Vote was held under high surveillance with army patrols

French voters headed to the polls on Sunday to elect regional leaders, in what is seen as a litmus test for President Francois Hollande, three weeks after terror attacks killed 130 in Paris and left the country bereft and anguished.

The first round of regional elections was being held under high surveillance, with security measures boosted across the country. Policemen and soldiers were seen patrolling the streets of Paris while bags were searched at poll station entrances.

At 5 p.m., 43.01 percent of voters had cast a ballot, according to figures released by the French interior ministry. During previous regional elections in 2010, the turnout was 39.29 percent at the same time.

By the time results of the second round are in on Dec. 13, the anti-immigrant, anti-euro National Front may win power in two or three of 12 regional assemblies for the first time and trounce Hollande’s Socialists in the popular vote, polls show.

In Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, one region that could be won by the National Front, voters’ turnout stood at 49.10 percent, nearly 10 points higher than in the previous regional election, while in Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur, another region pollsters say could be won by the FN, turnout stood at 46 percent, according to the Interior ministry’s figures.

Hollande voted early Sunday in his stronghold of Tulle in central France. He didn’t make any comment. Prime Minister Manuel Valls also voted Sunday morning in Evry, south of Paris. “I hope many French people will vote, especially after the terror attacks. We are standing and our weapon is the ballot paper,” he said, Agence France-Presse reported.

Even if Hollande’s personal popularity rose in polls due to his stance following the attacks, the voting intentions don’t seem to have changed much.

The National Front is set to win 28.5 percent of the popular vote, just ahead of The Republicans, led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, according to an ELABE poll of 1,003 voters taken Dec. 1 and 2. Hollande’s Socialists would be relegated to third place with 23 percent of the vote. Candidates who win more than 10 percent make it into the second round.

BVA Opinion polling predicts that the National Front will win the North region, which includes the migrant camps near the entrance to the Channel tunnel, and Provence-Alps-Cotes d’Azur on the Mediterranean coast. Four more regions will go to The Republicans, three will be contested and three will be held by the Socialists, the poll, taken Nov. 17-23, showed.

Hollande’s approval rating has jumped 20 points in the past month to 35 percent, the highest since February 2013, according to a TNS Sofres poll of 1,000 voters published Wednesday. The same series saw his rating drop to 13 percent in November 2014, a record low for all French presidents.

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