LAST month’s Paris terrorist attacks, in which 130 people were killed, cast a long shadow yesterday over the first round of regional elections in France.
Opinion polls suggest that there will be a strong showing for Marine Le Pen’s Islamophobic National Front (FN), consolidating gains made in recent years as she prepares to challenge for the presidency.
The far-right leader could be in with a shout of winning the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, which includes the port city of Calais.
Her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen appears to be on even stronger footing in her battle to lead the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, taking in the French Riviera and part of the Alps.
The conservative right, led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, is expected to win in most of the 13 redrawn regions at the expense of the governing Socialist Party.
Yesterday’s first round will be followed by a run-off next Sunday. It is the last election before the presidential elections in 2017 and a gauge of the country’s political direction.
French regions have wide powers over local transport, education and economic development.
Chronically unpopular Socialist Party president Francois Hollande has seen his approval ratings jump since the Paris attacks, as he intensified air strikes in Syria and Iraq and ordered a state of emergency at home.
His party, which currently runs nearly all regions, has, however, haemorrhaged electoral support as the government has stuck rigidly to neoliberal orthodoxy.
It has failed to reduce the 10 per cent unemployment rate or to invigorate the economy.