Anti-immigrant message resonating as France holds regional vote

France’s far-right National Front (FN) party is widely expected to make large gains today in the first round of voting in 13 regional elections that since the Paris attacks on 13 November have been dominated by the security and integration debate.

According to pollsters, FN leader Marine Le Pen, who has made immigration control a key part of her campaign, looks set to top the poll in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region for the first time. Control of the economically depressed region, traditionally a bastion of the Socialists who rule at national level, would also provide Le Pen with a springboard for her bid to be president in 2017.

Her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, is also in a strong position according to polls published on Friday to take the Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur  region in the south.

On Tuesday, Marion, who is seen to be at the far-right of the party, said Muslims could only be French if they follow [our] customs and way of life.

Opinion polls predict that the FN will score between 27 percent and 30 percent of the vote in the first round, roughly on a par with centre-right Republicans led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy. President Francois Hollande’s Socialist party is trailing and is expected to pick up around 22 percent of the vote. Hollande’s personal popularity has picked up recently due to his hardline approach following the Paris attacks and his ramping up of French airstrikes over Syria, but his party has failed to reverse its flagging fortunes.

First projections are expected at 19:00 GMT. The final result of the elections will be decided in a second round of voting on 13 December.

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