Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party was predicted to have made significant progress in the first round of local elections in France, while Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party fared badly.
The French local elections, for part of the cantons in the country’s 100 departments, attracted fewer than half the eligible voters. They were seen as the last chance to assess the national mood before presidential and parliamentary elections next year.
Estimates gave the Socialist Party (PS) 30 per cent of the vote, the UMP less than 20 percent and the National Front, enjoying a revival under the leadership of Miss Le Pen, daughter of founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, between 15 and 17 per cent, up from 12 percent in regional elections in 2010.
A leftwing party and ecologists were each credited with between eight and 10 per cent of the vote.
The poll attracted little enthusiasm, with public interest concentrated on events in Japan and Libya.
But the outcome has to be seen in the light of recent opinion polls that suggest that Mr Sarkozy might have problems qualifying for the second and decisive round of voting in the presidential poll next year, coming third behind a socialist candidate and Miss Le Pen and being eliminated.
UMP leaders said the low turnout made it impossible to draw any useful conclusions.
They have ruled out any deal with Miss Le Pen’s FN and will give no advice in cantons where socialist and FN candidates will face off in the second round of voting next Sunday.
The problem for the socialists is the choice among a plethora of candidates with the danger of a fratricidal contest.
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