Le Pen's Far-right National Front Leads First Round of French Local Elections

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French National Front leader Marine Le Pen delivers her speech after the announcement of the results during the first round of the regional elections in Henin-Beaumont, France, December 6, 2015.
French National Front leader Marine Le Pen delivers her speech after the announcement of the results during the first round of the regional elections in Henin-Beaumont, France, December 6, 2015.Credit: Reuters

REUTERS - France's far-right National Front pulled off an historic win on Sunday, topping the vote nationally in the first round of regional elections, exit polls showed, and potentially redrawing the political map before national elections in 2017. 

Boosted by fears over the Islamic State attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13, as well as by record unemployment and immigration, Marine Le Pen's party secured 30.2 percent of the vote nationally, the interior ministry said, with two thirds of the votes counted. 

The FN came first in six regions out of 13, the ministry said. 

"This is a historic, extraordinary result," FN lawmaker Marion Marechal-Le Pen told TF1 television. "The old system died tonight." Marechal-Le Pen, the granddaughter of party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, led the first round in southeast France with 40.9 percent. 

Run-offs will be held on Dec.13, with the FN well-placed to win one or more regions. Even one outright victory would be a major boost for Le Pen, who wants a base of locally elected officials to help her target power at national level. 

Her eye is on the 2017 presidential and parliamentary elections, with French politics now clearly a three-way race, after decades of domination by the Socialists and conservatives. 

The FN's success comes as an uncontrolled wave of hundreds of thousands of refugees from conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa boosts support for Eurosceptic parties across Europe, from Germany's AfD party to Britain's anti-EU UK Independence Party and the newly elected Law and Justice government in Poland. 

The FN, an anti-Europe, anti-immigration party, has in the past won control of less than a dozen French towns, but has never taken an entire region. 

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy ruled out any pact with President Francois Hollande's Socialist party to keep the far-right out. 

Sarkozy's conservative Republicans party came second in the overall national vote, on 27.4 percent, behind the far-right National Front but ahead of the Socialists on 22.7 percent, according to an interim count of two thirds of the votes. The conservatives and their allies were leading in four regions, including Paris, and the Socialists in three. 

The key question will now be whether the Socialists, seen as lying third behind the FN and the Republicans in regions which the far-right could win over on Dec.13, will pull out of the race in those regions. 

Any party that attracted at least 10 percent of the vote on Sunday will qualify for next Sunday's run-offs but they could decide to drop out of some regions to try to keep the FN out of power. 

Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls had opened the door to such alliances before the election. But the candidate in opposing Marechal-Le Pen, Christophe Castaner, ruled out dropping out of the race. 

Marine Le Pen herself came first in the north with 41 percent of the votes, a poll by Ifop-Fiducial showed. 

The Socialist party's top officials were meeting on Sunday night but might make their decision on strategy known only on Monday. 

"The National Front breakthrough across France is worrying," said the National Assembly's Socialist President Claude Bartolone, who is vying for the Paris region. "We have one week to make our ideals triumph." 

French regions rule over local transport and economic development as well as high schools and vocational training, with beefed-up powers after a reform that cut their numbers from 22 to 13.

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