Far-right gives Hollande a bloody nose in French voting
Initial results in French regional elections show the growing popularity of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National party.
Exit polls indicate it got 7 percent of the vote nationwide, compared to 43 percent for President Francois Hollande’s Socialists and 48 percent for the centre-right UMP.
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But the FN fielded just 596 candidates in the 36,000 French municipalities where votes took place
It beat the centrist parties in a dozen or so southern cities, including Beziers, Saint-Gilles, Frejus, and Perpignan.
It won in the former Socialist stronghold of Henin-Beaumont, near Lille, and came a close second in other traditionally Socialist constituencies, like Nimes, Cavaillon, Istres and Villeneuve-sur-Lot.
It also made in-roads in Marseille, and in cities further north like Metz, Lille, Saint-Etienne, Amiens, and Quimper. In Marseille, the far-right candidate pushed the Socialist contender into third place, with the centre-right incumbent out on top.
Around 61 percent of the electorate voted, a historic low in a municipal election, with a second round of voting set for next week.
Le Pen told TF1 television on Sunday: “The National Front has arrived as a major independent force - a political force both at the national and local level.”
But Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said more people need to turn out and vote in the second round to prevent the FN from sealing its victories. “Wherever the FN is in a position to win the second round, all who support democracy and the Republic have a duty to prevent them,” he noted.
Hollande’s popularity has nosedived in recent months, amid high unemployment, sluggish growth, and personal embarassments for the centre left leader.
His approval rating is just 23 percent, but was as low as 15 percent - the lowest such figure in French history.
At the same time, Le Pen is said to have made her party more palpable to the general public by including left-wing elements in its image.
An MEP since 2004, Le Pen is stanchly anti-EU, wants tighter border controls, and an exit from the euro.