PARIS — France’s far-right National Front failed to repeat its strong showing of a week ago in Sunday’s second round of voting in local elections, three exit polls showed.
The anti-immigration National Front led other parties in regional voting Dec. 6 with about 28% of the vote as it assailed the Socialist government of President Francois Hollande for failing to thwart the terror attacks Nov. 13 in Paris and called for tighter limits on refugees streaming into Europe from the Middle East.
In the second round, the National Front failed to capture the presidencies of any of the 13 French regions that held elections Sunday, according to the exit polls.
Party leader Marine Le Pen apparently lost her bid to become president of the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie. Republican Xavier Bertrand was projected to win 57% of the vote there, according to a French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP).
Le Pen had won more than 40% of the vote a week ago in a region where more than 2,500 refugees seeking to travel to Britain have set up a controversial tent city near the coast. Le Pen called on the government to shutter the camp.
IPFO projected that Le Pen’s niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, would lose her race for president of the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region. She led in the first round.
The Socialists withdrew their candidates from the regions where Le Pen and her niece ran to throw the elections to the center-right Republicans.
Marine Le Pen’s defeat signaled the end of the party’s momentum in French politics, Bertrand said on France2 television. “Here, the French have given political leaders a lesson of unity, honor and courage,” he said. “History will remember that this is where we stopped the progression of the National Front.”
Had Le Pen defeated Bertrand for that seat, she would have been in a strong position to run for the French presidency in 2017.
After it became clear that her party had done poorly, Le Pen lauded her supporters as “patriots” and blasted the mainstream Socialists and Republicans for running a smear campaign to discredit the National Front. “Congratulations, too, for throwing off the indecent slogans, the campaigns of … defamation that were decided in the gilded palaces of the Republic,” she said.
The National Front’s opposition to immigration, its strong law and order stance and call for protecting French jobs from foreign imports appealed to voters disenchanted with the two main parties.
However, polls in recent days showed the National Front winning less than half the vote. That suggested many French voters supported the National Front in the first round of elections as a protest against the government and planned to vote for one of the mainstream parties Sunday.
Marie-Madeleine Tanguy, 80, a Paris retiree who lives across the street from the Bataclan club that was the scene of the worst massacre Nov. 13, said she voted for the Socialist candidate even if her trust in the party has eroded. “We had no choice, it is still better than the NF (National Front). … I am afraid of the rise of the National Front. It’s frightening.”
Thibault Dujardin, 25, an administrative assistant who lives in Paris, said he voted for the National Front because it “is the only party to address the concerns the French people have in their everyday lives.”
“For a long time, people have worn blinders and refused to see things, refused to figure out what was happening in terms of security or immigration,” he said.
Contributing: Elena Berton.
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