Suspense as French far-right eyes first regional prize

 French voters flocked to the polls today as the far-right National Front (FN) looked for a historic win in regional elections that could boost leader Marine Le Pen's bid for the presidency in 2017.

AFP| Last Updated: Dec 13, 2015, 23:57 PM IST

Paris: French voters flocked to the polls today as the far-right National Front (FN) looked for a historic win in regional elections that could boost leader Marine Le Pen's bid for the presidency in 2017.

Voting took place under high security with France still under a state of emergency exactly a month on from the jihadist attacks in Paris that claimed 130 lives.

The anti-immigration FN topped the vote in six of 13regions in the first round of voting on December 6, capitalising on the security fears as well as France's struggling economy and disillusionment with mainstream parties.

But analysts said today's runoff would be close after the ruling Socialist Party urged supporters to vote tactically to thwart the far-right populists. 

Polls this week showed both Le Pen and her 26-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen losing in their respective regions, despite both taking over 40 percent in the first round.

The Socialists had pulled their candidates from those regions in the economically depressed north and glitzy south coast and told their supporters to back former president Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative Republicans.

Pollster Jean-Daniel Levy of Harris Interactive said the FN was "almost certain" to win what would be its first ever region while Bruno Jeanbart of OpinionWay said it would win between "zero and five".

Turnout was nearly 50.5 per cent at 5 pm, with three hours left to vote in some areas. That represented a seven per cent rise on the same time in the first round.

"Frankly, I'm voting against the FN in the interests of my family," said Issa Kouyate, a 59-year-old voter of Senegalese origin, as he went to cast his ballot in Marseille, where a high proportion of citizens are of immigrant background.

"There's danger," said Kouyate, describing the FN's 40-per cent score in the region's first round as "a time bomb".

The FN has topped European and local polls over the past two years, bolstering Le Pen's claim that it is now "the first

party of France". It controls around a dozen town halls across the country.

But it often struggles in the second round of elections as mainstream voters gang up to keep it from power it lost 535 of 538 second-round duels with the Republicans in local elections this year.

The FN argues such moves prove the main parties are two sides of the same coin and many Socialist voters dislike the

strategy.