France’s Far-Right National Front Gains in Regional Elections


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The leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen, center, greeted supporters after voting Sunday in Henin-Beaumont, France.

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Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

PARIS — The far-right party of Marine Le Pen was poised to make major gains in regional French elections on Sunday in the wake of terrorist attacks that traumatized the country last month.

When the polls closed after the first round of voting, projections indicated that her National Front party was winning outright in two of France’s 13 regions and leading in several others. Trailing were the right-leaning parties, including the Republicans led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. Even farther behind were the Socialists, the most prominent of whom is President François Hollande.

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,” she said..”

Ms. Le Pen was referring to the French city on the English Channel that is now home to more than 4,000 migrants hoping to reach Britain and to the “banlieues” as the suburbs of major French cities are known, many of which have sizable Muslim populations.

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National Front supporters in Henin-Beaumont celebrated the party’s strong showing in regional elections.

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Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

“It is the only party to defend an authentically French republic,” she added and to be dedicated to “the preservation of our way of life.”

With 71 percent of the votes counted, the turnout nationwide was expected to be 51 percent, slightly higher than for the last regional elections in 2010.

The second round of voting next Sunday will determine the final results. In the last several elections the National Front has done well in the first round but found it harder to sustain gains in the second, when other competing parties have united or withdrawn to keep the far-right from winning.

However, this time the high numbers for the National Front in a number of places suggests that the old political calculus may not hold, especially if the more traditional conservatives led by Mr. Sarkozy refuse to join with the Socialists to form a bloc against her. Mr. Sarkozy announced after his party’s second-place showing that he would not join with other parties in an effort to defeat the National Front.

Ms. Le Pen and her party have thrived on an anti-immigration message that has veered on anti-Muslim, as well as a call for re-establishing European borders between countries. These notions had already found traction as France faced an influx of Muslim immigrants from war-torn areas of the world. But she gained even more momentum after the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 in which 130 people were killed.

The regional election vote rather than being primarily about local issues as it has sometimes been in the past, was a “national vote for or against the government,” said Jean Yves Camus, an expert on the National Front and the far-right in Europe.

“But it’s also the case that the regional elections are unrolling in a very difficult, tense context and a very particular one,” he said.

“The year 2015 has been very hard with the attacks in January and in November,” Mr. Camus said. “The questions of immigration are present but not only that, also security.”



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