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Avignon, the medieval French city famed for its arts festival, would seem a natural home for Philippe Lottiaux, a man who loves to perform stand-up comedy in his spare time. Yet that could happen on Sunday when the second and final round of muncipal elections are held. The party, once regarded by most French voters as beyond the pale, took the lead in the first round last week and — despite a threat by the director of the Avignon Festival to move it elsewhere if the city falls under the control of the FN — the charismatic Mr Lottiaux has won many fans, including some who have never voted for the party before.
A graduate of the same elite colleges as most other French politicians, Mr Lottiaux, 47, admits that until he moved to Avignon in November, he had only visited the city to attend the festival. Far-Right makes makes electoral come-back across France. Far-Right Front National makes historic gains in French municipal elections. Anne Hidalgo to win Paris mayoral race, latest poll shows. The party has rattled the French political establishment by making significant gains in local elections currently taking place across the country.
In just a few months, he has convinced many locals that he is the man to solve the problems of a city where a third of the population live below the poverty line. Under his leadership, the National Front narrowly beat the Socialists and pushed the UMP, the party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, into third place.
The Socialists have now formed an alliance with another Left-wing party, posing a tougher challenge for the Front National in the second round. The UMP, which has run Avignon for the past 19 years, no longer appears to be a serious contender.
Two of her deputies have switched allegiance to Mr Lottiaux. One factor may be that an Arab is one of its candidates for the municipal council. Farid, 36, a waiter of Moroccan descent, said: We trusted President Hollande until he came to power, but now we see that companies are closing and jobs are being lost every day in France. Some are now prepared to take a chance with the Front National or feel so alienated that they just want to undermine the two-party system.