Voters in France have gone to the polls in a first round of local elections. Initial indications were that the conservatives came in first, with the far-right National Front next in line ahead of the ruling Socialists.
A number of exit polls have found that the Union for a Popular Movement party (UMP) of former President Nicolas Sarkozy and its conservative allies finished first in France's local elections on Sunday, taking between 29 and 32 percent of the vote. The polls indicated that Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front (FN), was on track to take between 24.5 and 26 percent.
The Socialists of President Francois Hollande came in third place, with their exit poll results ranging between 19.7 and 25 percent in the first round of the voting for 2,000 local councils in the 101 "departments" or administrative regions in France.
But the result will likely come as a disappointment for Le Pen and her anti-immigrant, anti-euro FN, after an opinion poll published by France's parliamentary television channel on Friday predicted that they could take almost 30 percent. Some reports in France following this poll had suggested that Socialist supporters might tactically vote UMP to thwart the far-right group.
This could also prove a setback for Le Pen's ambition to run in the next presidential election in 2017.
Decisive round in a week's time
Due to the two-round nature the polls, the FN could wind up being elected in only a handful of departments. In the second set of polls on March 29, many UMP and Socialist supporters can be expected to support whichever of the two mainstream parties is on the ballot in their particular constituency - in a bid to keep out the far right.
Turnout for Sunday's elections was thought to be higher than four years ago, as official partial figures already put it at 43 percent, three hours before the polls closed at 8 p.m. local time (1900 GMT/UTC). This was more than six percentage points higher than at the same point in the 2011 elections.
pfd/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)