The election in Nice's second constituency is taking place in the old fief of Jacques Medecin, the former mayor who fled to Uruguay to avoid tax evasion charges in 1990. It is seen as a test of likely trends for the next municipal elections in 1995, when a new mayor will be chosen.
The by-election was called after last March's general election victory of Christian Estrosi, a Gaullist, was annulled for campaign irregularities.
Jean-Paul Barety, the Gaullist mayor of Nice since November, took 11,652 votes to 11,618 for the National Front's Jacques Peyrat on Sunday. Six other left-wing and ecologist candidates shared the other 25 per cent of the vote; only 45 per cent of the electorate turned out. Mr Barety immediately called on Nicois to stop Mr Peyrat in the decisive second round next Sunday.
Although Mr Barety's first-round performance was better than Mr Estrosi's a year ago, when Mr Estrosi was behind Mr Peyrat, a popular local lawyer, it was far from the decisive lead over the National Front that Mr Barety's supporters had predicted.
While Mr Barety, 66, could logically expect to pick up enough support from the left to ensure victory on Sunday, his mediocre showing weakened him for the 1995 municipal elections. This could strengthen the hand of Jean Icart, 46, a businessman and son of a former cabinet minister, who has been campaigning to find new leaders for a city that has become a by-word for political sleaze.
The National Front has for some years singled out Nice as one of its main battlefields. Local analysts attribute the Front's successes in the city to rejection of the corruption of established politicians.
Last month, a court in Uruguay ruled that Mr Medecin, who ran Nice for 24 years, should be extradited to France. Mr Medecin has appealed, so a final decision is unlikely for another three months.
Meanwhile in St Tropez, Jean-Michel Couve, the Gaullist mayor, was re-elected with 58 per cent of the vote over Alain Spada, an independent conservative who ran the resort with an iron hand for four years until a majority of councillors resigned last year. In an election last April, Mr Couve took the town hall. That vote was later annulled, necessitating a new election.Reuse content