France’s far right National Front party has emerged victorious in the first round of voting in France’s regional elections – securing nearly one in three votes and the biggest share in six out of France's 13 regions. The result is a blow to President Francois Hollande of the Socialist party – whose popularity has risen after last month’s terror attacks in Paris.
The first political test for France since the attacks – and the National Front under Marine Le Pen has emerged as the clear winner. She said the result showed the old political world is ‘crumbling’.
She said the National Front was the only truly republican force, because it was the only one to defend the nation and its sovereignty.
Party supporters – like Ludovic in the northern city of Lille - were jubilant. “The French people are fed up and it's time to change things,” he said.
Among opponents, there was widespread shock.
Serena Demassi – from the southern city of Perpignan – said it was a pity that the Paris attacks played such a big role.
Following the attacks, Le Pen has argued that France should not take in any Muslim immigrants. But voter fear wasn't the only explanation for the party’s success, said Professor Matthew Goodwin of policy analysis group Chatham House, who spoke to VOA via Skype.
“These voters are also concerned about the European Union and the perceived threat that European integration poses to their ways of life and to their economic resources. And they’re also profoundly dissatisfied with domestic political elites,” he said.
The final result will be decided in a second round – where voters may rally to the main centrist parties. But the Republicans of former President Nicholas Sarkozy have ruled out co-operating with the Socialists to block the National Front from winning – a tactic used in past elections.
Far right parties have enjoyed success at the polls across Europe in recent months – from Sweden to Poland, Hungary to Britain.
“If the EU is unable to deal effectively with the refugee crisis, it’s unable to restore growth to the Eurozone which is still stagnating, then it is likely to face a major challenge,” said Goodwin.
The first challenge comes on Sunday in the final round of voting in France. Victory for the National Front would send shockwaves across the continent.