Results indicate the Front National candidate in the northwest town of Hénin-Beaumont in the Pas-de-Calais department, Steeve Briois, has won the mayoral race outright with 50.26% of the vote, preventing a second round run-off next Sunday.
The Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, is the regional councillor of the region and had campaigned heavily there in the lead up to the polls.
An exit poll by BVA found leftwing parties took 43% of the vote – down five percent in comparison to the last local elections in 2008 – while the right took 48%, and the Front National (FN) seven percent, far higher than the 0.9% it achieved in the first round of local elections in 2008.
Early results also suggest the Front National is in pole position in several key towns anc cities for the second round, including Avignon, Fréjus and Perpignan.
Le Pen, hailed the results as “an exceptional vintage for the FN”.
The municipal polls marked the “end of the bipolarisation of the political scene,” she said, making reference to the traditional rivalry between the left-wing Socialists, the party of President François Hollande, and the right-wing UMP.
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a Socialist minister and spokesperson for the government, said on France 2 television: “the Socialist Party’s position is very clear: we will do everything to prevent a Front National candidate from winning a municipality.”
The elections, although local, had been highlighted by the right as a referendum on the Socialists and François Hollande, who has the lowest approval ratings of any president in French history.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for voters, particularly those who have abstained from voting, to vote against the Front National next Sunday.
The leader of the UMP, Jean-François Copé, predicted a “big victory” for his party in the second round, telling iTélé television that voters had turned against the Socialists.
He stressed there would not be an alliance between the UMP and the FN.
“It’s important for those who voted for the Front National to mark their anger and exasperation with the left to send their votes to UMP candidates in the second round,” he said.
An estimated 35.91% of elegible voters abstained from voting, up from 33.5% in 2008.
Just under a million people stood as candidates for mayor or councillor in 36,000 constituencies, from the smallest villages to large cities such as Paris, Lyon and Marseille.