The French anti-immigrant, far-right-wing National Front party made huge gains in the first round of regional elections in France Sunday, the first elections held in the country since the terrorist attacks that killed 130 last month.
The performance was described by various media as “spectacular,” “astonishing” and “historic.”
Supporters of far-right National Front Party regional leader for southeastern France, Marine Le Pen, wave flags at a meeting after the results of the first round of the regional elections, in Carpentras, southern France, Sunday. French voters cast ballots Sunday for regional leaders in an unusually tense security climate that is expected to favor conservative and far-right candidates and strike a new blow against the governing Socialists. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
France 24 reported that exit polls showed the National Front ahead in at least six out of 13 regions in France and that party leader Marine Le Pen “now looks on course to take control of at least one French region for the first time in its history once the second round of voting takes place a week from now.”
The polls forecast that the National Front won 30.8 percent of the vote. Taking second place was the center-right Republicans Party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy with 27.2 percent, and President Francois Hollande's Socialists came in third at 22.7 percent.
“The spectacular showing is the highest ever performance for the anti-immigration, anti-European party and, if it maintains the strong lead in next week’s second round, it could reshape France’s political landscape,” observed Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
The BBC’s Hugh Schofield called Le Pen’s gains “an astonishing performance for a party that until very recently was regarded as beyond the pale.”
He pointed out that though fears of terrorism played a part in motivating voters to cast their ballot for the hardline anti-immigrant party, the National Front has been gaining ground for four years, fueled by concerns over economic and social issues.
Sunday’s elections took place under the state of emergency the government declared following the Paris attacks.
Le Pen described the result as "magnificent” and emphasized that her party is dedicated to “the preservation of our way of life,” a reference to the massive influx of migrants to France. The New York Times reported:
Appearing before her supporters, Ms. Le Pen called it a “magnificent” result, saying the National Front was “the only party that can reconquer the lost territories of the republic, of Calais, where we won 50 percent of the votes, or of the suburbs.” What Ms. Le Pen described as “lost territories” were the French city of Calais on the English Channel, which now has more than 4,000 migrants on its doorstep hoping to reach Britain, and the suburbs of major French cities, many of which have sizable Muslim populations.
Le Pen has demanded a crackdown on Islamists in France. In a speech one day after the Nov. 13 attacks claimed by the Islamic State group, Le Pen said, “France and the French are no longer safe.”
The next presidential elections in France will be held in 2017. The second round runoff vote for the regional elections will take place next weekend.