Marine Le Pen is on the brink of exercising real power, 40 years after the foundation of her far-right National Front party.
The anti-immigrant, euroskeptic party had long been expected to do well in Sunday’s first round of regional elections. The terror attacks in Paris on November 13 have given them a further boost.
The party looks increasingly likely to enter the French political mainstream. It is now the country’s biggest party and is on track to govern at least one, if not two, of France’s 13 mainland regions, equal in size to many small European countries.
The weekend gains showed that French politics is very much a three-way race between the center-left, center-right and far-right forces.
The National Front took 30.6 percent of the vote nationally in Sunday’s elections, while conservative Republicans and their allies achieved 27 percent. It was a crushing night for the ruling center-left Socialists, who only achieved 22.7 percent, failing to capitalize on the improved image of President Francois Hollande.
The National Front now leads in six of 13 regions before the second round of voting next Sunday, which will be contested by all parties that reached over 10 percent in the first round.
Both National Front party leader Ms. Le Pen, who was a candidate in the poor northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, and her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, who stood for election in affluent Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur in the south, won more than 40 percent of the vote.
Marine Le Pen announced on Sunday night that the National Front was the “first party in France” and that the country could “hold its head up again.” Her niece, only 25, but a rising star in the party, said: “This is a historic, extraordinary result. The old system died tonight.”