French far-right polls forward in regional vote in southern battleground By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen gives a speech for next year’s local elections in an annual end-of-summer speech to partisans in Frejus, France, September 15, 2019. REUTERS / Jean-Paul Pelissier / File Photo

By Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s far-right party won the first round of the regional elections on Sunday in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, two polls showed, an important battlefield that Marine Le Pen wants to win for her credibility ahead of the presidential election 2022.

The exit polls showed The Rassemblement National won the southern region by a smaller margin than expected against Renaud Muselier of the center-right, who had forged an alliance with President Emmanuel Macron’s party.

According to pollster Elabe, the nationwide voter turnout was projected to a record low with an abstention rate of 68.5% as voters preferred to enjoy a hot, sunny Sunday as the country emerges from months of tough COVID-19 restrictions on civil liberties.

The regional elections are a taste of the mood for next year and a test of credentials from Le Pen, who have made a concerted push to detoxify their party’s image and the voices of the mainstream right with a less seditious kind of eurosceptic , Anti-populist immigration policy.

A second round will take place on June 27th.

Le Pen will almost certainly be Macron’s number one challenger for the next year, fueled by a crime-fed support base, the threat to jobs of globalization, and a distant ruling elite. If they win a region, it would send a message that a win for Le Pen in 2022 cannot be ruled out.

In the northern Hauts-de-France region, the center-right Les Republicains performed stronger than expected, according to exit polls, and was ahead of the right-wing extremists by a larger margin than expected.

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