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Vote blunts rise of France's far right National Front

| Sunday, March 22, 2015, 6:30 p.m.

PARIS — France's governing Socialists never expected to do well Sunday in first-round elections, and their strategy worked just as planned: Their conservative rivals took first place.

Before the elections for 2,000 local councils, the Socialists urged people to vote, hoping that turnout would blunt the rise of Marine Le Pen's far right National Front, even if it meant Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP would be the victor.

Initial projections gave the UMP party 31 percent of the vote compared with 24.5 percent for the National Front and 19.7 percent for the Socialists and their allies.

With little air of a man in third place, Prime Minister Manuel Valls was the first to praise the far right's defeat.

“This evening, the extreme right, even (if) it is too high, is not at the forefront of French politics,” Valls said. “When we mobilize the French, it works.”

Le Pen was nowhere on the ballots, but her National Front is trying to build a grass-roots army of local officials to buttress her presidential ambitions in 2017.

One outcome is certain: Half of those elected will be women.

Instead of voting for individuals, the ballots had tickets — one man, one woman — in order to overcome years of failed efforts to get more women into government. Now 16 percent of council members are women.

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