French far right collapses in regional runoffs

Picture: AP
Picture: AP
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Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front collapsed in French regional elections last night after dominating the first round of voting, according to pollsters’ projections.

Ms Le Pen had been riding high after the terrorist attacks on Paris and an unprecedented wave of migration into Europe, and the party came out on top in six of France’s 13 newly drawn regions in the first-round vote a week ago. But projections by France’s major polling firms suggested this failed to translate into any second-round victories.

Three polling agencies projected Ms Le Pen and her niece both lost their bids to run two French regions.

Ipsos, Ifop and TNS-Sofres projected that Ms Le Pen won around 42 per cent of the vote in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, compared with about 57 per cent for conservative Xavier Bertrand.

Acknowledging defeat, Ms Le Pen pledged to keep fighting.

“Nothing can stop us. Long live the French Republic! Long live the nation! Long live France!” she told her supporters last night.

Ms Le Pen’s niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, was projected to win about 45 per cent in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region. Conservative Nice Mayor Christian ­Estrosi was projected to win about 55 per cent.

The Socialists pulled their party out of both races and it appears that many voters cast ballots to prevent the once-­pariah National Front from gaining power.

The polling agencies base their projections on actual vote count in select constituencies. Official results are due today.

Turnout was seven percentage points higher than for the previous regional elections in 2010, with 50.4 per cent of those eligible to vote casting ballots by 5pm local time, three hours before polls were to close in big cities, according to the interior ministry. The second-round turnout at the same time five years ago was 43.4 per cent.

Candidates have tried to lure to the ballot box the nearly 50 per cent of those who failed to vote in the 6 December first round, and those votes appeared to have been decisive.

The once-powerful Socialist Party, which currently controls all but one of France’s regions, came in a poor third place in the first round and pulled out of key races in the hopes of keeping the National Front from gaining power. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s party came in a strong second, and hoped to make substantial gains in yesterday’s runoff.

Winning control of any region would have been an unprecedented boost for the National Front – and especially for Marine Le Pen’s hopes for the presidency in 2017.

The atmosphere in the hall in Henin-Beaumont where ­National Front supporters were gathered to watch election results was grim, in stark contrast to a week earlier when Ms Le Pen won more than 40 per cent of the vote.

The region where she was a candidate includes the port city of Calais, a flashpoint in Europe’s migrant crisis this year, and suffers high unemployment. There was an especially marked jump in turnout around Calais compared with the first round.

Marechal Le Pen, 26, is the youngest legislator in France’s Parliament. She has used a soft touch to deliver hard messages on migrants and Muslims.

The National Front has racked up political victories in local elections in recent years, but winning the most seats in an entire regional council would have been a substantial success.