The French go to the polls again Sunday in the second round of regional elections, after the far-right National Front won the first round December 6. Here is everything you need to know:
What are the French voting for on December 13?
Sunday will be the second round of regional elections where voters will have to choose councils in 13 regions of Metropolitan France (12 on the mainland plus Corsica) as well as in overseas territories. That will determine which of the three major parties — the far-right Front National, mainstream conservative party Les Républicains, or the Socialist Party of French president François Hollande — will run each of the regions.
In the last regional vote, in 2010, the Socialists snatched all but one of what were then 22 regions. Some regions were amalgamated in January 2015, reducing the number of regions to 13.
Why do these elections matter?
This is the last national vote before France’s next presidential and parliamentary elections, due in May 2017. The second round Sunday will also take place just one month after the terror attacks which left 130 dead in Paris and prompted the government to declare a state of emergency. The vote also happens against a backdrop of economic crisis, with French unemployment now higher than the Eurozone average for the first time since monetary union began.
How does the electoral system work?
French regional elections are conducted using proportional representation lists. If no party gets 50 percent of the vote in the first round, a second round is held. Any party that took more than 10 percent in the first round may enter round two. Any party that got at least 5 percent of the vote in the first round can choose to merge their list with that of another party.
The winning list automatically gets allocated a bonus of 25 percent of the seats. The other seats are distributed proportionally between all remaining lists that achieved more than 5 percent of the vote.
What were the results in the first round?
As expected by most political analysts, in a context of economic crisis and with security high on voters’ minds, the National Front did remarkably well, coming ahead nationally with 27.7 percent of the vote. Les Républicains, the party chaired by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, was a close second with 26.8 percent. The Socialists received 23.3 percent of the vote.
The Front National came in ahead in six of the mainland’s twelve regions — the North, Provence, Alsace, Center, Bourgogne and Languedoc. Les Républicains led in Normandy, the Loire, the Paris region, and Auvergne. The Socialists were ahead in Brittany and the Aquitaine (Bordeaux) region.
In the North, Provence and Alsace, the three National Front candidates were largely ahead. Party leader Marine Le Pen polled 40.6 percent in the North, her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen also got 40.6 percent in Provence, and her close ally and party vice president Florian Philippot got 36 percent in Alsace. In all three regions, the socialist party came in at third place and decided to withdraw its lists of candidates before the second round, calling on its supporters to vote for Sarkozy’s conservatives.
What do these elections mean for François Hollande?
French President Francois Hollande remains an unpopular president, also after the Paris terrorist attacks (EPA)
President François Hollande enjoyed a boost in popularity following the November 13 Paris attacks but that did little to help his party in the first round of regional elections on December 6.
Five years ago, while in opposition, Hollande's Socialists swept all but one region. This time they will be lucky to hold on to three or four.
Hollande remains an unpopular president who seems unable to find ways to address high unemployment.
Who is Marine Le Pen?
Marine Le Pen is the National Front’s current leader and daughter of the party’s founder Jean-Marie. She has pulled her party away from the far-right fringes in recent years, ridding it of its extremist stigma, and courting the disenfranchised working class she says is being abandoned by the mainstream political parties of both right and left.
Le Pen has a chance of winning and then running the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, an area more populous than 12 EU countries. Her personal victory, winning more than 40 percent of the popular vote in an industrial area that was historically a stronghold of the Communist and Socialist parties, shows how many voters have drifted away from the ruling left, after seven years of economic crisis.
Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, who is seen as more conservative than her aunt, notably on social issues, received almost the same proportion of votes (40.6 percent) in her region as her aunt in the North.
What about Nicolas Sarkozy?
Sarkozy once described himself as the “only barrier” against the rise of the National Front. That barrier is looking pretty shaky after Sarkozy's Les Républicains came second to Marine Le Pen’s National Front in the first round.
Some analysts believe that voters looking to stop the National Front could rally around Hollande's Socialists and Sarkozy's party could lose everywhere. That would pose serious problems for the former president, just 18 months before a presidential election.
When we will know the result?
The last polls close at 8 p.m. and the first exit polls, which are usually reliable, will be published right then. Follow all our coverage here.
Related stories on these topics:
Everything you need to know about the elections in France
Marine Le Pen tries to hold onto her dominant position in Sunday’s second round of voting.
By Pierre BriançonandKate Day
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