PARIS (AFP) - Polls opened in France on Sunday (Dec 13) with the far-right National Front (FN) hoping to win control of a region for the first time, giving leader Marine Le Pen a launchpad for her presidential bid in 2017.
The anti-immigration FN topped the vote in six of 13 regions in last weekend's first round, capitalising on security fears in the wake of last month's extremist attacks in Paris that claimed 130 lives.
But it faces an uphill battle to convert that performance into victory after the ruling Socialist Party withdrew its candidates from two key regions and urged their supporters there to back former president Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative Republicans.
The race is expected to be close in several regions. A TNS-Sofres poll on Wednesday showed Le Pen, who heads the party list in the economically depressed north-eastern Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, would be beaten by the Republicans' Xavier Bertrand by 53 per cent to 47 per cent.
In the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region, her 26-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen was shown trailing the Republicans' Christian Estrosi, with 46 per cent to his 54 per cent. Other polls gave similar results.
Both women had easily outpaced their conservative rivals in the first round, each grabbing more than 40 per cent of the vote, but the party's hopes of winning its first-ever region could be crushed by its opponents' political manoeuvring.
The Socialists have pulled out their candidates in the regions where Le Pen and her niece are running.
Some 45.3 million people are eligible to cast their ballots, with the last polling stations closing in large cities at 8:00 pm (3:00am Monday Singapore time).