BESANCON, France (AFP) – French President Francois Hollande’s new-found popularity after the Paris attacks faced its first major test Sunday as a member of his ruling Socialist party battled against a far-right National Front candidate in a tense by-election.
The first round of the poll last Sunday in the eastern Doubs district – called after Socialist lawmaker Pierre Moscovici left for Brussels to take office as Economic Affairs Commissioner – saw FN candidate Sophie Montel come first with close to a third of the vote.
The Socialist Frederic Barbier, 54, came second and the main opposition UMP candidate was knocked out of the race.
If she wins Sunday’s decisive second round, Montel, 45, will be the third far-right lawmaker to sit in France’s lower house National Assembly.
UMP leader and former president Nicolas Sarkozy warned this week there was a real risk of the National Front taking power at a national level in the future. His party nevertheless called on its supporters to abstain from voting for either candidate on Sunday, and all eyes will be on whether the 60.5 per cent of voters who abstained last weekend will turn out this time round.
In Pont-de-Roide, a small town in Doubs, residents streamed to the council to cast their vote, waiting in line under a grey sky, in bitter cold.
The result, which is expected to be known early Sunday evening, will be a test for Hollande’s party and for the president himself.