French voters cast their ballots on Sunday for regional leaders in an unusually tense security climate, expected to favour conservative and far right candidates and strike a new blow against the governing Socialists.
Islamic State-inspired attacks on Paris last month and a Europe-wide migrant crisis have shaken up France’s political landscape.
Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Front is hoping the two-round voting will consolidate political gains she has made in recent years and strengthen its legitimacy as she prepares to seek the presidency in 2017.
The unpopular Socialist president, Francois Hollande, has seen his approval ratings jump since the Paris attacks, as he intensified French airstrikes on IS targets in Syria and Iraq and ordered a state of emergency at home. But his party, which runs nearly all of France’s regions, has seen its electoral support shrivel in recent years amid economic disappointment.
According to experts, France’s far-right National Front is tipped for historic gains. The last opinion poll on Friday by Ipsos-Sopra said the FN would take the largest slice of the vote (29.5%) followed by a mix of right-wing and centrist parties on 28.5% and the ruling Socialists on 23%.
FN leader Marine Le Pen was on course to win control of the economically depressed northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie. Her 25-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen seemed to be heading for an equally strong score in the southeastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region.