Is the National Front 'France’s first party'?
There’s no doubt about the biggest talking point after the first round of the elections.
The far-right National Front party achieved a record score after pulling in almost 30 percent of the vote.
Compare that to the 11 percent of the vote they achieved in 2010, it shows just how far the party has surged in popularity over the last five years.
Marine Le Pen said her party was “without question, the first party in France”. In terms of percentage of the vote, it’s hard to argue with that, given the centre-right Republicans, led by Nicolas Sarkozy and their allies achieved around 27 percent and the Socialists 23 percent.
France unquestionably has a three party political system now, with the National Front having established itself as a major player.
The map below shows the breakdown of the results.
Dark pink: National Front. Blue: Les Republicans. Light pink: Socialists
“The performance of the National Front shows that in France today it is no longer just the left and the right, but the left, the right and the National Front,” French political analyst Bruno Cautres told The Local on Monday.
The National Front's performance in some parts of the country bears out Marine Le Pen’s claim to lead the country's first party. In the northern Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, where she headed the National Front list, she picked up over 40 percent of the vote, as did her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen in Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur.
The National Front also topped the vote in four other regions: Centre Val de Loire, Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine, Bourgogne Franche-Comté and Languedoc-Rousillon Midi-Pyrénées.
Those results prompted the centre-right Le Figaro newspaper to splash a picture of Marine Le Pen on its front page with the words “The shock”.
Cautres says it is almost certain that Marine Le Pen will reach the second round of the presidential elections in 2017.
La une du Figaro demain Lundi 7 décembre pic.twitter.com/iMoRSHkvoM— Albert Zennou (@AlbertZennou) 6 Décembre 2015
Will the Socialist's sacrifice work?
After scoring over 40 percent of the vote in the northern Pas-de-Calais region and the south east, it seems inevitable that the National Front will win control of at least two regions.
But it’s not quite guaranteed, due to the Socialist party’s strategy.
Not long after the results were declared Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, the Socialist Party’s first secretary, declared they would be pulling out their candidates in the two regions and called on voters to vote against the National Front.
The strategy appeared to rile the National Front: a furious Marine Le Pen described it as "anti-democratic.
"It's a courageous move by the Socialists. In these regions it will be now a duel between the National Front and the right and it will be harder for Le Pen to win," Nonna Mayer, a French political analyst and far right specialist, told The Local.
"It's still open so let's wait until Sunday to decide who has won," she said.
The so-called “Republican Front” may yet keep the Le Pen duo out of power, but there’s no guarantee Socialist supporters will hand their votes to the right.
They could just as easily offer their support to the National Front, which in recent years has won over many former communist and socialist voters.
In the south east Socialist voters may just not have the appetite to vote for the centre-right list headed by Christian Estrosi, who has led a campaign that could quite as easily have been led by the National Front.
“I just can’t see the Socialist voters going for Estrosi,” said Cautres.
Unemployment or terror threat, or both?
It’s clear that part of the reason for the National Front’s record score is the record-high unemployment in France.
The Socialist party’s inability to bring down the jobless rate has only played into the hands of the far right, especially in regions such as the far north where job prospects are even slimmer.
But surveys carried out on Sunday also showed that several other issues are playing on the minds of the public, including the terror threat.
Polls have showed the November 13th terror attacks in France have only boosted the National Front’s popularity, as Le Pen appealed to French people’s concerns about radical Islam, migration, border controls and national security.
Other issues at the top of the list of voter concerns were immigration and the migrant crisis as well as crime, areas in which the National Front take a hard line.
What's interesting is that France's regions have no power over security or migration, but that didn't stop the voters turning out for the National Front.
Has Sarkozy run out of steam?
The ruling Socialist party has grown used to taking a hammering in regional, local and European elections in recent years.
While Nicolas Sarkozy’s Republicans party did not suffer any kind of humiliation, the first round could be seen as a failure from their perspective.
Despite doing well in this year's departmental elections, Sarkozy's party failed to make any significant progress in Sunday's vote.
The Republicans picked up nearly exactly the same share of the vote as they had done in the 2010 regional elections.
“They just did not perform as well as expected and it shows the Republicans party really under pressure from the National Front,” said Cautres.
“Sarkozy used to be good at attracting the National Front voters, but today we see the opposite is happening,” he said.
The more established the National Front becomes as a political party in France, the more voters it attracts.
Sarkozy has refused to entertain any kind of deals with the Socialists to keep out the National Front, but if voters do unite to keep out the far right, it will be his party that will benefit next Sunday.