France’s Front national failed to take control of any the country’s thirteen regions in an election on Sunday despite winning most votes in the first round last week.
Tactical voting by leftwingers was seen keeping the nationalists out of power in an Ifop exit poll.
The mainstream conservative Les Républicains, led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, defeated Marine Le Pen’s party in those regions where it stood the best chance of winning.
In northern Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, the Republican candidate got nearly 58 percent support against 42 percent for Le Pen, who was standing for the regional presidency herself.
In the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, where Le Pen’s niece, Marion, was the leading candidate, the conservatives scored 54.5 against 45.5 percent, the poll said.
The right was helped in both regions by the withdrawal of Socialist Party candidates who had come in third.
Altogether, the Republicans won seven regions as well as the election on Réunion island. President François Hollande’s Socialists won five.
Sarkozy, who is staging a comeback after losing the 2012 election to Hollande, can claim the result as a vindication of his strategy. While mimicking some of Le Pen’s hardline assimilation rhetoric to prevent right-wing defections, he has also formed pacts with centrist parties to make the Republicans a more attractive alternative to swing voters.
Some conservatives, including Sarkozy’s rival for the 2017 presidential nomination, Alain Juppé, had expressed doubts about the strategy after the party came in second in the first voting round.
Sarkozy rejected Juppé’s advice to call on right-wing candidates to stand aside where the Socialists stood a better chance of keeping the Front out of power.
The outcome is a disappointment for the Front. It took 27 percent of the votes in the first round, an historic high but less than opinion polls had projected.
Earlier this year, it got 25 percent support in departmental elections.
As the Atlantic Sentinel has reported, the party is now clearly the third force in French politics. Le Pen’s efforts to detoxify the Front and target blue-collar voters in the deindustrialized north as well as the Mediterranean south have paid off. But the French voting system makes it hard for a third party to break through.
Given Hollande’s unpopularity, Le Pen could still make it into the second voting round of the presidential election in 2017. But polls show Sarkozy — if he is the Republican candidate — would crush her in a runoff.
If, on the other hand, Hollande — or whoever the Socialists nominate — beats Le Pen into third place, Juppé would stand a better chance than Sarkozy of winning the presidency.