National Front gains in France poll
Published 24/03/2014 | 05:22
France's far-right National Front made gains in municipal elections, sparking calls for left and right-wing parties to stop its advance.
The governing Socialist Party, which was victorious in 2008 voting, was losing ground, reflecting the deep unpopularity of President Francois Hollande who has failed to cure the struggling economy and unemployment rate hovering above 10%.
The National Front won an outright victory in Henin-Beaumont, party leader Marine Le Pen's blighted northern outpost - once a thriving coal mining town of 26,000 people.
Steeve Briois took 50.26% of the vote to become mayor, eliminating the need for a final round on March 30.
Socialist prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for right and left to join to stop the National Front in towns it might win next week, saying that "all forces have the responsibility to ... stop" the far right's march.
A so-called "republican front" of left and right came together in 2002 to defeat National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen when he fought for the presidency.
However, the leader of the conservative UMP party, Jean-Francois Cope, said "there will be no alliance" with the left in the final round.
The UMP was in position to maintain towns it held - and won outright in Bordeaux where former prime minister Alain Juppe is mayor.
It looked set to take other towns despite the scandals surrounding its one-time party leader, former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The interior ministry said the participation rate was a record low of 64.09%. Low turnouts can favour the far right.
The voting in 36,000 French villages, cities and towns for mayors and municipal counselors is a test of the resiliency of France's governing Socialists. The election is the first since Mr Hollande took office in 2012.
Ms Le Pen's National Front has aimed to use the municipal vote to build a grassroots base with 1,000 municipal officials in place, to position the party for national voting and European parliamentary elections in May.
The National Front fears that Islamic culture will dominate French civilisation if Muslim immigration is not halted, and opposes globalisation and the EU as infringements on French sovereignty.
Ms Le Pen has worked to clean up the National Front's racist image since taking over in 2011 from her father, Jean-Marie.
She called the National Front a "great political force" supplanting the mainstream left and right and planting local roots "of a rather exceptional year".