France’s National Front (FN) is widely predicted to take a step today towards grabbing control of at least one region for the first time, with both leader Marine Le Pen and her niece expected to perform strongly.
The first round of regional elections comes three weeks after the jihadist attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead, thrusting the FN’s anti-immigration message to the fore.
Around 44 million people are eligible to vote and ballots will be cast under tight security with France in a state of emergency following the attacks on the capital. First projections are expected at 1900 GMT.
Le Pen is on course to top the poll in the economically-depressed Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region in the north, once a bastion of the left.
Her 25-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, meanwhile, seems to be heading for an equally strong score in the vast southeastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region that includes the beaches thronged by sun-seekers in the summer.
Opinion polls give the FN between 27 per cent and 30 per cent of the vote in the first round, a similar score to the centre-right Republicans led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
While President Francois Hollande has seen his personal ratings surge as a result of his hardline approach since the Paris attacks, his Socialist party has not enjoyed a similar boost, and is languishing at around 22 per cent of the vote.
The FN is also expected to compete for power in the eastern Alsace-Champagne-Ardennes-Lorraine region that borders Belgium and Germany, according to polls by Ipsos and Odoxa.