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Polls: Far-right ahead of conservatives and socialists at French municipal election

Polls predict that the far-right National Front will be in the lead at Sunday's local elections in France. The party's leader Marine Le Pen is expected to run for the French presidency in 2017.

More than 4,100 representatives for France's 101 regions or "Departments" (départements) are to be elected on Sunday and on March 29. A poll published this week ahead of Sunday's first-round balloting indicates that

the far-right National Front (Front National)

might garner 30 percent of the vote. That is just ahead of the conservatives and their allies (UMP-UDI), who were placed on 29 percent. According to this poll, President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party would obtain about ten percent less votes than each of the two leading parties.

For National Front leader Marine Le Pen, the municipal elections are an important step in building a base for her ultimate goal: the presidential elections in 2017. "This is the big straight line to 2017," she said in a speech early this month in Paris. "There is no minor election, no minor vote." However, most political analysts believe that, although Le Pen could reach the runoff in 2017, she would not be able to defeat the mainstream candidate - once France's moderate voters were left with a straight choice between the far-right and another candidate.

The National Front's anti-immigration, anti-EU and anti-establishment stance appealed to many French voters: In 2014, the party won control of 11 towns and took three seats in the French parliament. In European parliamentary elections, the National Front claimed 24 seats, almost one-third of the total allocated to France, and more than any other French party.

Ahead of the local elections, French news agency AFP reported that Axel Loustau, the treasurer of the small party "Jeanne" that is close to Marine Le Pen's National Front, is currently being investigated for fraud in a case related to the financing of the far-right's election campaigns.

das/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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