Whilst she is not on the ballots, Marine Le Pen is the focus of elections for more than 2,000 councils across France. Opinion polls rate Le Pen’s National Front Party the favorite versus the ruling Socialists and conservatives ahead of today’s vote.
The vote is will be the first chance voters will have had to respond to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January, when twelve staff were shot by Muslim gunmen. The attack led to significant soul searching, in France as it was expressingly undertaken to curtain free speech.
A strong showing for Le Pen could prove crucial in building her grass-roots base if, as expected, she runs for president in 2017. French local government holds significant power and so having a strong base in it is seen as vital.
The National Front’s opposition to immigration, radical Islam, the European Union and the euro has helped transform the party from a pariah under Le Pen’s father.
France’s council elections are in two rounds, so victory Sunday will determine which candidates can contest a second vote March 29. Candidates appear on ballots in pairs — one male, one female — to ensure that 50 percent of council members are women.
Socialist President Francois Hollande is expected to sink in the polls, he is now one of the least popular French leaders ever. Unless he can turn around his party’s fortunes soon they will lose the Presidency.
Additional reporting by Associated Press