Tense climate boosts French far-right party's poll chances

France's far-right Front National (FN) party stands to gain the most from the Nov 13 terrorist attacks in Paris in upcoming regional elections, as security issues and immigration are at the top of French people's worries.

"The nature of the campaign has changed. The events force us to abandon the regional themes. I cannot imagine myself not to talk about the events in public meetings," FN leader Marine le Pen told a meeting in the northern town of Amiens.

The regional elections on Dec 6 and 13 are the last polls before the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2017. Apart from Ms Le Pen, none of the main potential presidential candidates is standing in the polls next month.

It is important for the FN to win and show that it can govern in the regions, after it won 11 towns last year, as a stepping-stone to running the country and gaining credibility.

"When you see a president turning his back on all his old ideas and taking the measures proposed by the FN, then this has an amazing side, it is a tribute to the FN, which wins in credibility," Ms Le Pen said in Amiens.

The main opposition party, the Republicans, headed by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, struggles to make gains on the security issues as President Francois Hollande has implemented several of its proposed measures.

Among the measures against terrorism that Mr Sarkozy suggested is one that calls for the setting up of detention centres where radical Muslim youth could be "de-radicalised".

The Le Monde newspaper said on Tuesday that France would open several centres to work with French radical youth returning from places like Syria, or who are known to the authorities as becoming more radically oriented.

There are also continued policy differences within the Republicans. Mr Alain Juppe, party rival of Mr Sarkozy for the centre-right candidacy for the 2017 presidential poll, has blamed Mr Sarkozy for reducing security staffing while he was president from 2007 to 2012.

Mr Sarkozy has been calling for a "serious overhaul" of France's security policies and blamed the government for the "lost time" in hunting down potential terrorists since the attacks at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly and a kosher supermarket in January.

DIFFERENT FOCUS

The nature of the campaign has changed. The events force us to abandon the regional themes. I cannot imagine myself not to talk about the events in public meetings.

FRONT NATIONAL LEADER MARINE LE PEN, on how the terrorists attacks in Paris have altered the themes of the run-up to the regional elections next month

Mr Hollande has been able to solidify his position as a statesman and, according to market research company Ipsos, his popularity rating has jumped 17 points to 41 per cent compared with a month ago, and up from a low of 12 per cent last year.

These ratings may help Mr Hollande's Socialist Party to get a better score than the 16 per cent at the departmental elections last March, but they remain a weak basis for the presidential election.

Mr Juppe remains the most popular politician at the moment, with an approval rating of 55 per cent. Mr Sarkozy gained seven points to 38 per cent but lags rival Francois Fillon at 44 per cent. Ms Le Pen gained four points to 31 per cent.

According to pollster Harris Interactive, there is a slight advantage for the candidates of the FN with 27 per cent of the votes, against 26 per cent for those of the Socialist Party and Left Radicals and 25 per cent for the centre-right parties Republicans, UDI and Modem.

Ipsos said the FN could obtain a majority in two regions - the north, where Ms Le Pen heads the list, and the south-eastern region, where her niece Marion Marechal Le Pen made a score of 40 per cent against 30 per cent for the local leader of the centre-right.

Political scientist Pascal Perrineau told Europe 1 radio that the upcoming regional elections were the "most nationalised" elections since the 1958 start of the Fifth Republic.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline 'Tense climate boosts French far-right party's poll chances'. Print Edition | Subscribe