France's Far Right with Huge Rise of Support at Local Polls
French far-right National Front Party has done remarkably well at Sunday's first round of local polls. France's ruling Socialists, on the other hand, seem to be trailing behind the opposition UMP (Union for a Popular Movement).
President Francois Hollande's party ranks second with 43% of the ballots, as popularity of the head of state is crumbling due to his inability to fight the stagnating economy and the ongoing unemployment.
The UMP, the party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, has received 48%, and its officials predicted a "big victory" in the second round of polls.
French National Front has scored 7% of the vote - an exceptional achievement compared to the 0.9% at last local polls in 2008.
FN's achievement is even more striking given that the party had filed candidates in only 600 of France's 36 000 municipalities.
Historic levels of support were won by Marine Le Pen's party in a number of towns and cities to the north and to the east of France.
French TV channel France24, citing early estimates, suggests that the FN is leading in the eastern town of Forbach in the country's former industrial heartland, as well as in various southern cities.
This means the FN will be in a pole position for the second round of voting on March 30. They even have an outright winner in former coal-mining town of Hanin-Beaumont, where their candidate, Steeve Briois, got more that 50% of the votes, thus being declared mayor with no need of a second round.
FN's leader told TF1 television that "The National Front has arrived as a major independent force - a political force both at the national and local level."
Le Pen, who in 2011 took the National Front's leadership from her father, has vowed her party will have mayors in 10 to 15 mid-sized towns after the second round.
She has considerably boosted support for her party by removing anti-Semitism from the FN's image and pushing populist measures (such as restrictions on the EU's free movement) up on the agenda.
Record low turnout was registered at this year's elections, with only 54.72% voter participation compared to 56.25%.
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