France’s far-right National Front (FN) appeared to lead in the first round of regional elections held three weeks after the deadly Paris attacks, according to early estimates.
Polling agency projections said on Sunday that the FN came first with between 27.2 percent and 30.8 percent of the vote nationwide, topping the list in at least six of 13 regions.
FN leader Marine Le Pen and her 25-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen broke the 40 percent mark in their respective regions, capitalising on their anti-immigration and sometimes Islamophobic message.
Marine Le Pen described the result as “magnificent” and said the early estimates proved that he FN was “without contest the first party of France”.
Former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Republicans party and its allies were projected to come in second place at around 27 percent, while President Francois Hollande’s Socialist party appeared to come in a weak third place, with between 22 and 24 percent.
Hollande’s approval ratings have jumped as a result of his hardline approach since the Paris attacks, but his party, which currently runs nearly all of France’s regions, has seen its electoral support shrivel as the government has failed to shrink 10 percent unemployment or invigorate the economy.
Ballots were cast under tight security with the country in a state of emergency after the attacks on the capital on November 13, in which 130 people were killed.
If confirmed, Sunday’s results will be a big boost for Le Pen, who prepares to seek France’s presidency in 2017.
She has made much in her campaign of the so-called “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais, where thousands of people have been camped for months trying to reach Britain and northern Europe.
But despite its apparent big gains, it is still unclear whether FN can translate Sunday’s performance into victory in the second round of voting on December 13 for leadership of France’s 13 newly drawn regions.
ls opened at 08:00 (07:00 GMT) and closed at 20:00 (19:00 GMT), with some 44m people eligible to vote.