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'Shock' in France at far-right gains

December 7, 2015

"The shock," read the headlines of two major papers in France after the far-right National Front party won 28 percent of the first-round vote. Leader Marine Le Pen claimed it showed her party to be France's "first."

Frankreich Regionalwahlen Unterstützer des Front National
Image: Getty Images/P. Aventurier

France's controversial far-right leader Marine Le Pen hailed her party's gains at regional polls on Sunday, stating it was a "magnificent result."

Le Pen said that it proved that her National Front (FN) party was "without contest the first party of France."

Both the right-leaning daily "Le Figaro" and former communist paper "L'Humanite" led with "Le Choc" ("The Shock") on their respective Monday front pages.

According to estimates by the French interior ministry, the National Front led the first round with 28 percent of the vote, while Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right alliance - now called The Republicans - claimed 27 percent. French President Francois Hollande's ruling Socialist Party and its allies came in third with 23.5 percent.

Le Pen's National Front took advantage of fears across the country by campaigning on an anti-immigration, anti-EU and often Islamophobic platform to garner support in the aftermath of deadly attacks in the nation's capital Paris.

Gaining on fears?

The far-right party's Twitter account shared comments made by party strategist Florian Philippot on Monday that were critical of the country's handling of the terrorist attacks as well as a wave of migration.

"We must stop subsidizing the reception of migrants, we must defend our local artisans," Philippot said to French satellite channel BFM TV.

"We must defend the security of our transport and our schools, we must defend our local craftsmen and producers," Philippot said.

Meanwhile, Socialist Party secretary-general Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said the party would withdraw from at least three National Front-dominated regions in the second round, on December 13. Cambadelis' bid "to block" the far-right party would involve bowing out of races where the center-right Republicans were a clear second - in the expectation that Socialist voters might prefer them to Marine Le Pen. The Socialists, in turn, may hope for a similar approach from the Republicans in areas where they finished third.

"This sacrifice will not be made in vain. It will show to the French nation that the socialists rise to the republic's occasion," said Cambadelis, according to France 24.

Sarkozy said the results displayed the French people's "profound exasperation" for the country's state of affairs.

"We must hear and understand the profound exasperation of the French people," Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy has so far dismissed calls to copy the tactics of the Socialists, but some in his party have called on the Republicans to step aside in regions were it came in third in order to counter the FN.

Former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, also of Sarkozy's alliance, seemed to imply the Republicans might be prepared to withdraw from certain runoff votes.

"We must rebuild the republic…The republic is crumbling, that's why we need clear messages. When one comes in third place (after the first round), one retires," Raffarin said in an apparent reference to the ruling socialists.

The run-off vote is slated for December 13.

A party that gets at least 10 percent of the vote in the first round can put forward candidates in the second round.

The far-right National Front has campaigned on an often Islamophobic message
The far-right National Front has campaigned on an often Islamophobic messageImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Petit Tesson

Concern of swing to the right in Europe

The FN's strong showing could signal a shift to the right in European politics, with parties against immigration and expousing nationalism gaining support across a continent experiencing a massive influx of migrants and refugees.

Support for anti-immigration and eurosceptic right-wing parties has been on the rise in Poland, Switzerland, Austria and the UK, causing concern in Germany over a potential backlash to open immigration policies.

Horst Seehofer, the head of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU, on Monday said the French election results should be a warning signaling the rise of anti-immigrant parties such as the AfD.

He said the party must address the immigration problem and provide security, particularly against terror attacks in order to avoid a shift to the right.

The anti-immigrantion AfD has gained ground in Germany, where a recent poll put support at nearly 10 percent.

ls/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)