Paris: France's right-wing parties, led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, edged out the far-right National Front to take first place in local elections, in a crucial test ahead of 2017 presidential elections.
The conservative alliance, including Sarkozy's opposition UMP, took 32.5 per cent of the vote according to the latest polls, ahead of the governing Socialist Party led by much maligned President Francois Hollande.
The anti-EU and anti-immigration National Front (FN) led by Marine Le Pen, which had dominated the airwaves during the campaign, fell short of polls that had put it in the lead in the run up to the elections.
Provisional official figures gave the FN around 25.35 percent, behind the 30 per cent or more it was tipped to win from French voters, dissatisfied with the stagnant economy and issues surrounding immigration.
The far-right party led the first-round vote in 43 out of 98 "departments" -- which have power over local issues such as school and welfare budgets -- that voted in Sunday's poll, according to interior ministry figures.
The FN is expected to go through to the second round in more than half of the 1,100 "cantons" -- an administrative division below "departments" -- that will vote again in a week, an AFP analysis of the data showed.
The party's best results "are concentrated in the southeast, particularly in the cities and near the cities it runs," said political scientist Jean-Yves Camus.
That put it ahead of Hollande's ruling Socialist Party, whose failure to address double-digit unemployment has seen him haemorrhage support since he took charge in 2012.
Provisional interior ministry figures gave the Socialists and their left-wing allies around 22 per cent of the vote.
The mainstream parties will be able to call on smaller allies when voters return for run-off elections next Sunday, while the FN will struggle to find partners.
"There will be no local or national deal with the leaders of the FN," declared Sarkozy immediately after the initial figures were released.