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Far right set to win in France in weekend elections

France's Front National (FN) is on course to triumph in the country's local elections this Sunday, in a vote that will be a key test for the country's struggling left-wing government and its economic record.

"The FN could win a number of departments (council seats)," Antonio Barroso, a senior analyst at Teneo Holdings, told CNBC on Wednesday.

"This doesn't change a lot, but it does mean that the FN is slowly but steadily managing to get more power and resources, which is important for consolidating its place in the eyes of the electorate."


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The two-round structure of this weekend's vote means that while the FN, which has campaigned on a hard anti-immigration and –European Union ticket, will win a large share of the vote in the first round, many voters will switch allegiance in the second round to whichever party can keep it out of power Nonetheless, opinion polls predict the far-right party it will beat the ruling Socialist party and its center-right rivals in the first round of voting this weekend.

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The latest poll by the Institut Français d'Opinion Publique (Ifop) indicated that 30 percent of the electorate planned to vote for the FN in the first round of elections, ahead of a combined score of 29 percent for the centrist UDI and conservative UMP parties and 19 percent for the incumbent Socialist party. Just under half of those eligible were seen voting in the election, roughly in line with the participation rate in last year's European Parliament elections.

From financial to political crisis?

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The FN currently holds only two council seats out of 101 in the whole country and is likely to win only a handful more in the upcoming elections, said Barroso.

Nonetheless, any gain would build on the FN's recent successes in last year's elections for the EU's parliament, when it gained the largest share of the vote in France, and galvanize the party's leader, Marine Le Pen, toward a presidential bid in the2017 general election.

"The polls certainly point towards a strong showing for the Front National in this weekend's local elections. This would certainly be a political blow for President Hollande and the Socialist Party," Jessica Hinds, European economist at Capital Economics, told CNBC on Wednesday.

The popularity of the FN has grown in France under Le Pen, who succeeded her father, Jean-Marie, in 2011. She has strived to rid party of its racist, anti-Semitic image and to tap into growing disenchantment across Europe with establishment politics and politicians, as well as to benefit from frustration with slow pace of France's economic recovery.

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"The financial crisis has become a political crisis in Europe," Barroso said.

"In France, they (the electorate) are disappointed with the current economic situation and there is massive disaffection towards the establishment—and this, by the way, is something that is going on across Europe, in many countries, like Spain, the U.K. and Greece."

'Severe defeat' for Hollande

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The regional elections come as President Hollande battles with low popularity ratings and the unruly left-wing of his party that has opposed reforms designed to make France less bureaucratic and more pro-business.

Barroso said the president was seen losing 30 to 40 seats in the upcoming elections, despite a small bump in approval ratings following the "Charlie Hebdo" terror attack in January.

"These are low-key elections that have become prominent essentially because the Socialist party is going to suffer a severe defeat," he told CNBC.

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However, Barroso and other analysts doubted Hollande would step back from his program of incremental reforms, as the upcoming elections do not affect the composition of the national parliament, and a recent flurry of better-than-expected economic data has helped validate the his policies.

The French economy grew by only 0.4 percent in 2014, behind the euro area average, but is seen by the International Monetary Fund expanding by 0.9 percent this year and 1.3 percent next.

Growth in French business activity hit a 42-month peak in February, with business confidence at a one-year high, according to widely followed data from Markit.

"This election carries headline risk, but being at local level, it is not really relevant for central government reforms in our view," Alberto Gallo of RBS told CNBC on Wednesday.