People in France have started casting ballots in the second round of regional elections while the country’s far-right National Front (FN) party is expected to face a tough race to consolidate its gains in the first round.
Polling stations opened at 08:00 a.m. local time (0700 GMT) on Sunday and will close at 08:00 p.m. local time (1900 GMT), with some 45.3 million people eligible to vote.
In the first round of the polls held last week, the FN, led by Marine Le Pen, topped the vote in six out of a total of 13 regions in the West European country. French regions enjoy wide powers over local education, transport and economic development.
However, the anti-immigration party faces a tough battle to translate its good performance in the first round of the elections into victory.
The challenge arose after the Socialist Party, led by President Francois Hollande, withdrew its candidates from two key regions, where the FN was best placed, and called on its supporters there to back candidates from the center-right Republicans, led by the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
The FN leader and her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, both won more than 40 percent of the vote in the northern region of Nord-Pas-De-Calais-Picardie and the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, respectively.
The FN won 27.73 percent of the vote, followed by the Republicans at 26.65 percent and the Socialists with 23.12 percent in the first round of the regional polls, which saw a nationwide turnout of 50 percent.
On Wednesday, however, a survey by the TNS-Sofres institute showed the FN leader would be beaten by the Republicans’ Xavier Bertrand by 53 percent to 47 percent while her niece would be defeated by the Republicans’ Christian Estrosi, with 46 percent against 54 percent.
The FN has capitalized on security concerns in the wake of the recent deadly attacks claimed by Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in the French capital city of Paris. On November 13, assailants struck at least six different venues in and around Paris, leaving 130 people dead and over 350 others wounded.