National Front first with between 27.2 and 30.3 percent of the vote nationwide

French far-right sees record surge in first poll since attacks

Early estimates see National Front winning six out of 13 regions, with leader Marine Le Pen grabbing 40% of votes in her area

French far-right Front National party head Marine Le Pen reacts to first-round results in regional elections in the Nord Picardie region on December 6, 2015 at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont. (AFP Photo/Denis Charlet)
French far-right Front National party head Marine Le Pen reacts to first-round results in regional elections in the Nord Picardie region on December 6, 2015 at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont. (AFP Photo/Denis Charlet)

France’s far-right National Front saw record-high results in the first round of regional polls Sunday, held under a state of emergency just three weeks after Islamic extremists killed 130 people in Paris.

The National Front (FN) came first with between 27.2 and 30.3 percent of the vote nationwide, and found itself topping the list in at least six of 13 regions, according to early estimates.

FN leader Marine Le Pen and her 25-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen broke the 40-percent mark in their respective regions, shattering previous records for the party as they tapped into voter anger over a stagnant economy and security fears linked to Europe’s refugee crisis.

Marine Le Pen, a lawyer by training, welcomed the “magnificent result”, saying it proved the FN was “without contest the first party of France.”

A grouping of right-wing parties took between 26.2 and 27.4 percent, the estimates showed, while the ruling Socialist party and its allies took 22.6-23.5 percent.

The polls were held under tight security following the country’s worst-ever terror attacks, which have thrust the FN’s anti-immigration and often Islamophobic message to the fore.

Around half the 45 million registered voters took part in the polls, which will see the top two parties in each region go to a run-off next Sunday.

The early estimates showed 47-year-old Marine Le Pen taking a whopping 40.3-41 percent of the vote in the economically depressed northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, once a bastion of the left.

Marion Marechal-Le Pen did equally well in the vast southeastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, known for its glamorous beaches and stunning countryside, on 40.9-41.9 percent.

“42 percent! Thank you!” she wrote on Twitter.

France’s regions have recently been consolidated and given more power over areas such as schools, transport and support for local businesses.

President Francois Hollande has seen his personal ratings surge as a result of his hardline approach since the November 13 attacks in Paris.

But his Socialist Party has languished behind the FN and the center-right Republicans led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The FN’s anti-EU and anti-immigrant narrative has been a lightning rod for many French who have lost faith in mainstream parties after years of double-digit unemployment and a sense of deepening inequality.

Victories next week would not only hand control of a regional government to the FN for the first time, but would also give Marine Le Pen a springboard for her presidential bid in 2017.

She has striven to “de-demonize” the party since taking over the reins in 2011, distancing herself from the overt racism of her father, FN co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.

She even booted her father out of the party this year — triggering a long-running family feud — after his latest controversial comments about the Holocaust, which he calls merely “a detail of history.”

Her campaign nonetheless focused repeatedly on migrants, particularly the Calais camp known as “The Jungle” where thousands of people live in miserable conditions, trying to reach Britain or northern Europe.

She is also due to be judged this week for inciting hatred after comparing Muslims praying in the street to the Nazi occupation.

But none of this has hurt her image among voters longing for a strident leader who can return France to past glories.

And the FN’s decision to repeatedly link immigration with terrorism has helped it climb in the polls since the gun and suicide bombing attacks in Paris.

When it emerged that at least two of the attackers had entered Europe posing as migrants, the FN went to town with a message of “we told you so.”

“If we fail, Islamist totalitarianism will take power in our country,” Marine Le Pen said after the attacks.

The French electoral system has tended to keep the far-right from power, as mainstream voters ganged up against the FN in second rounds.

But the party has been on a roll, taking first place in European and local polls over the past two years.

And after the initial results on Sunday, Sarkozy repeated his refusal to tie up with the Socialists in order to beat the FN in the second round on December 13.

“We must hear and understand the profound exasperation of the French people,” he said.

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