UPDATE: 6:30 a.m. EST -- Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right Les Républicains party is expected to win majorities in seven of France's 13 regions, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Official election results put the conservative party ahead with 40.2 percent of nationwide votes, helped by the ruling Socialist Party's decision to withdraw its candidates in two regions where Marine Le Pen’s National Front had a strong lead.
The Socialist Party is running second, and has secured 28.9 percent of the votes, while the National Front, despite a strong showing in last week's polls, has so far won only 27.1 percent.
After sweeping first round regional elections last Sunday, the anti-immigrant Euroskeptic National Front party suffered a near total loss, expected to lose all six of the regions it had previously won, Associated Press reported Sunday. The party, led by Marine Le Pen, had seen an increase in voter support following a spate of deadly terror attacks that rocked Paris Nov. 13, leaving 130 dead.
The National Front has long built up its constituency on an anti-immigrant platform, and as uncertainty concerning border control and national security grew in the weeks following the attacks, so too did the support for the usually third-place party. The party won 27.7 percent of the vote last Sunday, beating both establishment parties: President François Hollande's left Socialist Party and Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right Les Republicains party.
The French voting system for regionals always works in two rounds and French voters again took to the polls Sunday, exactly one month after the Paris attacks. Voter turnout was at 59 percent for the second-round elections, up 10 percent from the first round. The Republicans were set to take five regions and the Socialists, at least five. A map released by the Ipsos polling agency shows the preliminary results, with the Socialists in pink and the Republicans in blue.
— Visactu (@visactu) December 13, 2015
Following last Sunday's results, the Socialist Party withdrew several of its candidates in the regions where it had come in third while encouraging supporters to vote for the Republican candidate to keep the National Front out of power. Preliminary data from the French voting authority reported the gamble paid off, with the National Front losing all 13 regions. A poll released last week reported 77 percent of Socialist supporters in the regions where the party pulled its candidate had agreed to vote for the Republican party.
Le Pen was still optimistic about her party's future despite the crushing defeat, as she looks toward a presidential run in 2017. "Nothing will stop us," she told supporters in the northern region of Calais, where she lost to Republican candidate Xavier Bertrand, the Associated Press reported. Calais is across the English Channel from the United Kingdom and has become a flashpoint for the refugee crisis as thousands of people are housed in overcrowded camps that have been wracked by unrest and violence.
Leaders from the mainstream parties looked to a united future while noting that the challenge posed by Le Pen was not entirely over. “Now is the time for collective work in service of #France,” wrote Sarkozy in a tweet posted to his verified Twitter account.
— Nicolas Sarkozy (@NicolasSarkozy) December 13, 2015
Other members of government warned the public that the results of the regional elections were not the final word on the political situation of the nation. "The danger of the far-right has not been removed, far from it," said Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls, after early results were released, Agence France-Presse reported.