PARIS (AP) — A candidate of France's far-right National Front won a run-off vote in a local election Sunday that drew widespread attention amid signs that the once-shunned anti-immigrant party is gaining strength.
Laurent Lopez defeated center-right UMP candidate Catherine Delzers in the by-election to win one of 43 seats on the Var department council. France is made up of more than 100 departments; five or so departments make up a region.
A smiling Marine Le Pen, the National Front's leader, appeared on French television and declared the results showed "a real desire for change by the French." Le Pen, who scored 17.9 percent in the first round of last year's presidential vote, said her party could win "hundreds, maybe a thousand" seats in local elections next March.
The National Front currently holds dozens of local seats across France and two seats in the national parliament.
A call by the ruling Socialist party of President Francois Hollande and other left-wing parties to vote for the UMP candidate in Sunday's election fell flat, with the Lopez taking 53.9 percent of the more than 9,000 votes cast. More than half of the eligible voters stayed home.