The extreme right-wing National Front (FN) on Sunday night failed to win a single region, after leading in six of 13 French regions in the first round of regional elections one week earlier.
There will be no further nationwide elections in France until the May 2017 presidential contest. Sunday's poll was seen as a rehearsal for 2017.
The FN claims to be France’s “first party” and often leads in the first round, as it did on December 6th, with 27.8 per cent of the vote. But unlike the ruling socialist party (PS) and Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative “Les Républicains” (LR), the FN has no allies or reserve voters to bolster its score in the run-off.
Exit polls showed the FN's leader, Marine Le Pen, won 42 per cent of the vote in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, compared to 58 per cent for the LR candidate Xavier Bertrand. Ms Le Pen thanked her voters "for rejecting intimidation, infantilisation and manipulation" by the socialist government.
Prime minister Manuel Valls had warned of a risk of "civil war" if the FN won the elections. He called on socialists to vote for LR candidates in the three regions where the FN looked likely to win, and where LR was ahead of the PS in the first round. Mr Sarkozy refused to reciprocate, reiterating his policy of "neither nor" – neither FN nor PS.
With left-wing support, the LR appears to have won seven of 13 regions, while the PS won six. The socialists held 21 of 22 regions under the previous system.
Ms Le Pen said the "worryingly irresponsible" rhetoric of Mr Valls and the socialist speaker of the National Assembly Claude Bartolone showed "the dangerous drift of a dying regime", that a "campaign of calomny and defamation" was "decided in the golden palaces of the republic and carried out in a servile way by those who live off the system".
She noted that the FN’s score in the second round of regional elections rose from 9.17 per cent in 2010 to 30 per cent on Sunday, “confirming as EU and departmental elections showed the inexorable rise of the FN, election after election”.
Ms Le Pen’s 26-year-old niece, Marion Maréchal Le Pen, lost the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region to the LR candidate, Christian Estrosi, a close ally of Mr Sarkozy, by 45 to 55 per cent.
In Alsace-Champagne-Ardennes-Lorraine, Marine Le Pen's right-hand man, Florian Philippot, lost with 36.4 per cent of the vote to 48.8 per cent for the LR candidate Philippe Richert. Jean-Pierre Masseret, the socialist candidate who defied Mr Valls's order to withdraw from the race, won only 15.2 per cent.
Mr Valls said voters “responded to the very clear, very courageous appeal of the left to block the path of the extreme right, which won no region”. The results were a lesson to politicians “to end little political games, invective, sectarianism”, he said.
Ms Le Pen said the results proved “the secret ties between those who pretend to oppose each other but in reality share power without ever solving your problems”.