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France's ruling Socialists face drubbing in municipal polls expected to show far-right gains

Voters in Paris and across France are going to the polls Sunday in municipal elections seen as a referendum on embattled President Francois Hollande's first two years in office.

The far-right National Front aims to build on its surprisingly strong finish in the first round of voting last week. The anti-immigration party made advances across the country amid record-low voter turnout and is poised to make significant gains in the voting for mayors and municipal counselors in 36,000 villages, cities and towns.

The ruling Socialist party, reeling from Hollande's record-low approval ratings and a string of embarrassing scandals, is bracing for a rout that pollsters estimate could see the opposition UMP party take back control of around 100 city halls.

Many in France are expecting the vote to be followed quickly by a government shake-up in response to the electoral drubbing. Voters nationwide are disillusioned that despite Hollande's 2012 election pledge of "Change, Now," unemployment continues to rise and the economy continues to stagnate.

One bright spot for Hollande is the capital, where Anne Hidalgo is favorite to defeat rival Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and keep Paris in Socialist control for another six-year term. Hidalgo, 54, has served for 13 years as deputy to outgoing Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe.

Hidalgo benefits from the successful projects carried out by Delanoe, such as the Velib bike-sharing and Autolib auto-sharing services, and the creation of a beachfront each summer on the banks of the Seine.

Hidalgo also benefits from Paris' system of indirect voting, in which the mayor is chosen by the 163 members of the City Council. Voters choose council members based on party lists in Paris' 20 districts, and Hidalgo's Socialists are very likely to be ahead in some of the most populated neighborhoods.