Sensational gains for French National Front

Figaro - Le Pen - shock

FN leading party nationwide

Marine Le Pen leads first round with 40.6% in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie;
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen also leads first round with 40.6% in Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur ;
Florian Philippot leads first round with 36.1% in Alsace-Lorraine-Champagne-Ardenne 

First results from the French regional elections indicate that the National Front (FN) is now the country’s leading party, with party leader Marine Le Pen on course to become president of the region around Calais – an area with a population of six million which also includes many depressed former industrial areas.

It appears that in Calais itself Marine Le Pen won more than 50% of the vote, and around 60% in the FN stronghold of Hénin-Beaumont.

The two-round system used in the French regional elections will undoubtedly prevent FN victories in next week’s second round in many of the six regions where the party was in first place today, but Marine Le Pen in the north and her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen in the southern region around the Côte d’Azur have probably built up such a strong lead that they cannot be stopped, even by an alliance of the establishment parties.

Moreover there are signs of dissent within that establishment, some Socialists saying that they will withdraw in favour of conservative anti-FN candidates in the second round, while former President Nicolas Sarkozy says that he will oppose any conservative withdrawals.

Across the whole of France (with about 98% of first round votes counted) the FN vote averaged 28.0% making them the largest party, more than double their 11.4% vote in 2010, and ahead of the conservatives on 26.9% (up 0.9%) and the governing socialists on 23.3% (down 5.8%).  Most of the remaining votes were scattered among various far left and green parties, though UKIP’s ally Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and his DLF party polled around 3.9% nationwide (scoring best in their leader’s home base near Paris).

DLF polled around 2.4% in Marine Le Pen’s region and 2.0% in Marion Maréchal-Le Pen’s region, so if their votes transfer solidly this could push the FN closer to regional victories next week. This would be the first time that the party has held power at regional level – and is especially significant because several regions are now even bigger following boundary changes. Marine Le Pen’s region, for example, is larger than Denmark.

Aside from the two Le Pen regions, the FN also led in the north-east region of Alsace-Lorraine-Champagne-Ardenne, where the party list headed by Florian Philippot (one of the FN’s vice-presidents who has been targeted in a homosexual scandal) managed a first round vote of 36.1%. Support from the left would probably have been enough to allow the conservatives to overtake M. Philippot in the second round, but latest news is that the third-placed socialist candidate will stay on the ballot (unlike his counterparts in the two strongest FN regions) – so M. Philippot has a great chance of winning a three-cornered fight next weekend.

In the region around Burgundy the FN’s Sophie Montel (also an MEP) leads the first round with 31.5%; while in the Central/Loire Valley region (which includes the town of Dreux where the FN had its first electoral breakthrough in 1983) the FN ‘s Philippe Loiseau was in the lead with 30.5%.  Each of these will remain close three-cornered fights in next weekend’s second round, as will the southern region around Languedoc, where the FN’s vice-president Louis Aliot (leading advocate of the party’s closer relationship with Israel) led the first round with 31.8%.

So in total the FN was in first place in six giant regions of France. In addition the party was a close second with 27.7% in Normandy, where its list was headed by Nicolas Bay, a former leader of the party’s youth wing who joined the breakaway MNR during the FN’s split in 1998 but was accepted back into the FN in 2009.

For the first time the turnout in a French regional election fell to barely 50%, in a further sign of the crisis of confidence in mainstream politics. We can expect a week of solid ‘anti-fascist’ propaganda in a last desperate effort by the French socialists to get their vote out next Sunday.

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