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France

Far right makes gains in French local elections

A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Dijon, 20 March 2011.
A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Dijon, 20 March 2011. AFP/Jeff Pachoud

France’s far-right Front National (FN) and the left-leaning Socialist Party made gains in local elections on Sunday, as President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP lost ground in a poll whioch saw low voter turnout. Sarkozy told the UMP's leading body Monday that there would be no question of calling for a vote for the Socialists to prevent the FN winning seats.

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About 45 per cent of potential voters went to the polls, according to France’s Interior Ministry.

The opposition Socialist Party received the most votes overall with about 25 per cent,  official preliminary results showed.

The UMP won 16 per cent, but the FN received between 15 and 17 per cent, up from 12 per cent in 2010's regional elections.

The Socialist Party called on its voters to vote for the UMP to keep out FN candidates in the 89 run-offs which will see Sarkozy's party face off against the far-right next Sunday.

Speaking on France Inter radio, party spokesperson Benoît Hamon said that the FN would add to the economic and social ruin of France and bring about “a sort of democratic breakdown of the country”.

But government spokeperson Francois Baroin refused to reciprocate, saying that a united front against the FN “is not the right answer”.

And UMP Secretary General Jean-François Copé refused to call on the party's voters to vote for the Socialists in the 394 run-offs where they face FN candidates.

Sarkozy echoed this message at a meeting of the party's leadership on Monday, according to several MPs who were present.

The elections, for France’s smallest administrative segments, the cantons, are relatively minor but could be seen as a test of each party's nationwide strength ahead of next year’s presidential elections.

But UMP leaders said Sunday that the low voter turnout made it impossible to draw any conclusions.

The FN hopes to capitalise on dissatisfaction with the Sarkozy government and the publicity attracted by its new leader Marine Le Pen to repeat its success in the 2002 presidential election, when Marine's father Jean-Marie squeezed out the Socialists to face Jacques Chirac in the second round.

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