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After Historic Gains, French National Party Falls Short In Second-Round Elections


Now we head to Paris, where we're going to hear what some are calling surprising results from the French regional elections. It seems that the far-right National Front Party did not do as well as expected in the second round of French regional elections on Sunday - that according to early poll projections. The party had been poised to win anywhere from one to six regions for the first time in history. The far right had capitalized on the recent terror attacks and the migrant crisis, but also a fatigue of politics as usual in France. We go now to NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris to learn more. Hi, Eleanor. What happened here?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Michel. Well, exactly as you said, they capitalized on the terrorist attacks and on the migrant crisis and also on what's known as a fatigue of the (speaking French) which is the alternant of the right - the mainstream right and left, which sort of just trade places but don't get anything done. And people were really tired of it, so they came out in the first round and they voted hugely for the far right. They got 30 percent nationwide and up to 40 percent in some regions. But in the end, they didn't pull through on the second round. And we have to say there was a huge abstention rate - 50 percent. And the mainstream left and right were focusing on getting those people out to block the far right this weekend. And it seems that they did so. They got them to go vote.

MARTIN: So you're saying that you think that the mainstream parties, the other parties put more effort into getting voters to the polls in the second round.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, I really do because actually, the prime minister came out, and they - you know, they were scaring people all week, saying, you know, the far right - you know, you cannot let them come in. You have to do - they don't have the same values as us - equality, fraternity, liberty. You know, they were really trying to stir people up. And it seems that there was a higher voting rate this weekend, so they were blocked everywhere. But, you know, Marine Le Pen - she's the leader of the far-right party - she came on tonight, and she said basically we did great and this is the end of the two-party system in France. And even though the far right didn't get in, I think many people realize that - that it is the end of the two-party system. The far right has now really - it's becoming a viable third party in France now.

MARTIN: If - but if the National Front hasn't picked up any actual public offices, how will they express their influence? How will their influence be seen going forward?

BEARDSLEY: Well, after the first round of this vote, this regional vote, they were the number one party in France. Marine Le Pen said, we are the number one party of in France, and they were. So they're changing the dynamics right ahead of this presidential race in 2017, where, you know, it's always been the mainstream right and the mainstream left. And now there is a great number of French people who are voting for the far right, which they have modernized. They are trying to mainstream the parties. So they're gaining more votes and they're becoming a viable force in French politics. So they could actually pick up many more votes in the future.

MARTIN: What should we conclude from these results, Eleanor? On the one hand, the National Front did not gain any seats at all, contrary to what some expected. On the other hand, they came close. What should we conclude from that?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Michel, what we can conclude is that they're coming closer every time. Every time there are local elections or municipalities or regional elections, they're getting closer and closer. They're getting more and more acceptance. And many people throughout Europe are looking to the far right as a real answer to some of the problems and some of the issues that are facing them today.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Eleanor, thanks so much for speaking with us.

BEARDSLEY: Michel, good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.