PARIS (Reuters) - Far-right leader Marine Le Pen is set to win control of France’s northernmost area in regional elections in December, an opinion poll showed on Friday, with her niece possibly coming first too in the southeastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region.
The center-right Les Republicains party led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to win a majority of regions, according to the survey by the BVA polling institute, the first to measure voting intentions across mainland France ahead of elections set for Dec. 6-13.
The poll showed the ruling Socialists who currently dominate the regional assemblies winning just three regions.
Le Pen, who is also preparing to run as the anti-immigrant, anti-euro National Front party’s candidate in 2017 presidential elections, would take 46 percent of the Dec. 13 runoff vote in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, far ahead of a projected 29 percent for the center-right’s candidate and 25 percent for the left-wing contender, the poll said.
Marion Marechal-Le Pen, Marine’s niece and grand-daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, could win in a far closer contest in the southeastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, according to the poll, which saw her taking 37 percent of votes, a fraction ahead of 36 percent for the center-right.
Marine Le Pen succeeded her father as National Front leader in 2011, but fell out with him earlier this year over comments he made dismissing the gas chambers of World War Two as a “detail” of history.
The elder Le Pen was excluded from the party in August, in a move many saw as an attempt by Marine Le Pen to consolidate her leadership ahead of the 2017 presidential election, but which was opposed by Marechal-Le Pen.
The election being held in two rounds on Dec. 6 and 13 will be the last before the presidential election in 2017 and it is the first contest for power at regional level since a redrawing of the electoral map last year.
Regional councillors’ principal powers are in the domain of local planning, transport and upper-secondary schooling.
Marine Le Pen, who has sought to rid the National Front of its anti-Semitic reputation since she succeeded her father as party leader, has enjoyed intensifying media attention as her own poll ratings have improved and in the wake of 2014 European Parliament elections where her party came first.
As tensions rise ahead of the December ballot, she set of a fresh controversy this week by pulling out of a televised debate where she was due to face rivals from the mainstream left and right.
She accused the France 2 public television station of making last-minute changes to the organization of the debate, prompting a withdrawal that forced France 2 to cancel the three-hour program minutes before it was due to go on air.
Reporting by Michel Rose; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Andrew Callus and Dominic Evans