PARIS • French voters dealt a sharp setback to the far-right National Front (FN) in regional elections, depriving the party of victory in any of the country's 13 regions, an outcome which its leader Marine Le Pen blamed on tactical voting.
A week after the FN came out on top in the first round of voting, France sent a far different message, with the party losing even in a northern region where its charismatic leader had been widely expected to win.
Projections based on exit polls also showed the party being defeated in another of its strongest areas, the south around Nice, where Ms Le Pen's 26-year-old niece Marion Marechal Le Pen was on the ballot.
Ms Marine Le Pen said the result would not discourage the "inexorable rise, election after election, of a national movement" behind her party. She hailed the "total eradication" of Socialist Party representation in the south-east and the northern regions that the tactical vote produced, and condemned the concerted campaigns against her as "defamation decided in gilded palaces".
If confirmed when the vote count is completed, the results would confound expectations that the party, with its anti-immigrant, nativist message, was on the verge of an electoral breakthrough that could have added momentum and credibility to Ms Le Pen's hopes of winning the presidency in 2017.
The FN won more votes than any other party nationally in last week's first round, the best showing in its history, boosted by fears about security and immigration after the Islamist militant attacks in Paris a month ago that killed 130 people.
But early results from the second round on Sunday had the governing Socialists winning four to five regions, with the mainstream conservative Republicans perhaps taking the rest, including Paris.
The difference between the two Sundays: In the two main regions where the FN was thought to have had a chance of winning, the Socialist party candidates dropped out, leaving the field clear for the mainstream conservative candidate.
The Republicans and centre-right allies took 57.5 per cent of the vote in the northern region against Ms Le Pen's 42.5 per cent, the Ifop Fiducial poll for iTELE, Paris Match and Sud Radio showed. In the south-east, another FN target where Ms Marechal Le Pen was the FN's lead candidate, the conservatives scored 54.5 per cent and the FN 45.5 per cent, the poll said.
In the eastern region, where the Socialists did not withdraw but where the FN also did well in the first round, the centre right won 48.4 per cent against the FN's 36.4 per cent, according to a separate poll by TNS-Sofres-One Point.
For weeks, the FN and its supporters had boasted it was France's leading party, and that the country had become a three-party system: left, right and - in the FN's own terminology - nationalist. But, in the end, the early results confirmed what an angry Ms Le Pen herself declared in her concession speech: France is still a two-party country, those who are for the FN, and those who are against it.
Ms Le Pen made her presidential ambitions for 2017 clear: "This distinction will be what is fundamentally at stake in the huge political decision of the presidential election."
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS