Le Pen's election bid fails as parties unite against far-right
The far-right Front National (FN) was thwarted in its attempt to clinch a historic electoral victory in France by failing to secure power in any of the country's 13 regions, early results suggested last night.
The ruling Socialists of President François Hollande appeared to have fared better than expected, taking six regions. The centre-right also took six regions, including Paris for the first time since 1998. The final region, Corsica, was won by a nationalist party.
Voting had taken place under high security with France still under a state of emergency exactly a month on from the jihadist attacks in Paris that claimed 130 lives - a climate that helped the FN make gains in round one a week ago.
In a major upset, Marine Le Pen, the FN leader, failed to take power in the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, losing heavily to Xavier Bertrand, candidate of the Republicans, the party led by Nicolas Sarkozy. She had hoped victory would act as a "foundation stone" for a run at the presidency in 2017. In the event, Mr Bertrand won almost 58pc to Ms Le Pen's 42pc.
"History will remember that it was here that we stopped the advance of the Front National," said Mr Bertrand, a former labour minister.
The same fate befell Marine's niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who failed in her battle for the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, losing to Christian Estrosi, the mayor of Nice, by 45pc to his 55pc.
The Socialist Party withdrew its candidates in the north, where Marine Le Pen was the main candidate, and in the southeast, where Marion Marechal-Le Pen was running, urging its supporters to vote for Mr Sarkozy to keep the FN out of power.
The FN had high hopes of clinching at least three regions after the first-round vote, in which it took the largest slice of the national ballot - some six million votes.
But it fell foul of higher than expected turnout - more than 50pc - and the tactical voting by Socialist sympathisers who plumped en masse for the mainstream right. Ms Le Pen put a positive spin on her defeat, saying the FN had maintained political momentum by winning a historically high number of votes, and was now "the first opposition force in many regional councils of France" - tripling its number of councillors.
The outcome was relatively disappointing for Mr Sarkozy, whose party won only four regions without the support of left-wing voters.
Critics said his hard-right line failed to woo FN supporters, a sizeable chunk of whom had voted for him in 2012.
But the former president reportedly told aides: "My strategy was the right one. The results have shown that France has never been so right-wing."