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France's elections: Will the far right boost its vote?

France goes to the polls on Sunday in elections which will show how successful the far-right Front National (FN) has been in building support.

With the terror attacks in Paris fresh in French memories, this will indicate whether more French are turning towards either Socialist Party President Francois Hollande or the right-wing politician Marie Le Pen in the aftermath.

"Two key topics have dominated the news recently - the migrant crisis and the fight against terrorism - and voting is likely to reflect opinions on national issues rather than regional ones," according to Francois Cabau, an economist at Barclays.


French National Front political party leader Marine Le Pen arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, to attend a meeting with government, main political parties leaders and presidents of the Parliament, November 15, 2015.
Philippe Wojazer | Reuters
French National Front political party leader Marine Le Pen arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, to attend a meeting with government, main political parties leaders and presidents of the Parliament, November 15, 2015.

While Sunday's elections are regional, they are also the last time the French will head to the ballot box until the national and presidential elections in 2017. Le Pen herself is tipped to win the presidency of the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, which has more people than Denmark, an achievement which would confirm her journey from outsider to contender in French politics.

Hollande had been performing poorly in polls, but seemed to get a boost from his robust response to the terror attacks.

Still, 28.5 percent of the French population is planning to vote for the Front National, according to a poll for French newspaper Les Echos on Thursday, compared to 28 percent for the LR-UDI-Modem centrist/right-wing coalition and 23 percent for Hollande's Socialist Party.

After the 2010 election, the socialists led 22 out of 25 regions, but they seem unlikely to match that this time. To start with, the number of regions has been reduced from 22 to 13 in mainland France, as part of budgetary cuts. The government, led by Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, has also been resoundingly criticized for its handling of the economy while in power.

The FN may not end up controlling as many of the regions as their share of the vote might suggest. Many of the elections are likely to result in a second round, on December 13, as a party has to secure an overall majority to win in the first round. There is still a very real possibility that the socialist and centrist/right-wing groupings will agree to co-operate to keep FN candidates out if elections go to a second round.