In divided France, far-right victory is feted and mourned

Supporters in Marine Le Pen's northern fiefdom were thrilled at the result (FRANCOIS LO PRESTI)
Supporters in Marine Le Pen's northern fiefdom were thrilled at the result (FRANCOIS LO PRESTI)

The champagne is flowing, the cheers are echoing and the Marseillaise is resounding.

"Marine! Marine! Marine!" chant the crowd in triumphant mood as the results of France's first round of legislative elections stream in, showing a clear win for the far-right National Rally (RN).

They do not have to wait long before the icon of the French far-right, three-time presidential candidate and woman credited with turning the party into a competitive political force declares the party is seeking an absolute majority and the post of prime minister in round two.

The results mark a "determination to turn the page after seven years" of rule by President Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen tells the crowds, adding that she wants her protege Jordan Bardella to be prime minister.

She declared an outright victory in the first round for her seat of Henin-Beaumont, a gritty area in northern France and typical of the regions where the RN has thrived in recent years.

The RN has promised to boost purchasing power, drastically curtail immigration and restore law and order, with Le Pen seeking to moderate past extremes even as opponents accuse it of still being racist.

"We've tried everything and it doesn't work, so why not try the National Rally?" said Jonathan, who asked his last name not be given, at an industrial estate in the area.

"Act on security, employment for young people, give more purchasing power, especially petrol which is too expensive. Some people can't go to work because they don't have enough money to put petrol in their car."

- 'Disrupt the way of life' -

"I'm waiting for Mr Bardella or other people to maybe take a bit of a look at things and redefine purchasing power a bit," said Gilles Janiaczyk, self-employed, 60.

"Maybe we should put things back in order with the people who live here and can't adapt to our country," he added.

But Lydie Maffeis, a pensioner, 79, who voted for the presidential alliance, said: "My generation has known parties that were, shall we say, a little more moderate. And now we've gone to the extremes. And that's the problem."

At the other end of the country, in France's Mediterranean port city of Marseille, in its densely populated districts with large immigrant populations, the mood is often quite different.

"I'm worried about the possibility of the far right because we're in a working-class, cosmopolitan city and it could disrupt the way of life we have here. We risk the spread of racist speech in public services," said Jean-Francois Pepin, 49, a special needs educator.

In front of a school in the Cite des Oliviers, in the north of Marseille, "we've never seen a queue like that to vote, and so much the better" said the presiding officer as voting took place.

Many were motivated to vote by the risk of the RN taking power, even those that shunned European elections earlier in June.

"As long as we have the choice, it would be better to go and vote," said Nabil Agueni, 40. "I came to counter the FN because it will remove all assistances. The country needs help, we are not all equal," he said, referring to the party by its old name of the National Front (FN).

Ines Daoud voted for the first time, at 19, with her mother Ouahiba. "Honestly, we don't want the RN. We don't have a party in particular, but in the family there is a mix, from Algeria, the Comoros, Morocco," Ouahiba said.

After voting in Wissembourg in France's eastern corner close to the border with Germany, Thierry, 58, would not say how he voted but said he believed Macron's decision to hold the polls was a good idea.

"I hope that it will result in something coherent capable of responding to the wishes of the French. Whether it's Pierre, Paul or Jacques who wins, we have to be respectful of the choice," he said.