image copyrightEPA/Reuters

Early results indicate both President Emmanuel Macron and his opponent Marine Le Pen will fail to make the gains they were hoping for in the first round of regional elections in France.

Exit polls show Mr Macron's centrist party is at risk of falling short of the 10% needed to take part in the second round next weekend.

One of his MPs, Aurore Bergé, said it was a "slap in the face".

Mrs Le Pen's far-right National Rally party looks set to come second.

Her party was expected to top Sunday's first round of polling, and win at least one region for the first time. Mrs Le Pen is not running as a candidate but she has been leading the campaign.

She described the record-low voter turnout – a projected 66% abstention – as a "civic disaster".

She blamed the results on the government's inability to inspire faith in political institutions. "Let's face it, the results were marked by a torrential and also historic abstention of nearly 70% due to the mistrust of an electoral system, which leaves voters with the feeling that nothing can change, that everything has been confiscated," she said.

Voters are choosing new councils for France's 13 mainland regions, plus one overseas, as well as 96 departments. There are more than 15,700 candidates standing for 4,100 seats.

This election is being watched particularly closely, because the next presidential elections are less than a year away. It is being used to get a taste of voters' mood.

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Early results by Ipsos show the main winners look set to be various centre-right parties, including the main opposition, Les Républicains, with 27.2% of the vote, ahead of the National Rally with 19.3%, followed by the Green party, the Socialist Party and Mr Macron's La République En Marche (LREM) with 11.2%.

media captionPresident Macron was slapped in the face on a visit to south-eastern France earlier this month

This is the first time President Macron's party has taken part in regional election – La République en Marche did not exist the last time they were held in 2015.

His party was not expected to do particularly well in this election. Last month a minister told AFP news agency: "These elections are never good for the party in power. You always get it in the neck."

However LREM has fared worse than expected. It will not win any region outright, having failed to gain enough support in local regions, but LREM has received just enough votes to go through to the next round.

Mr Macron will now undoubtedly face a challenge ahead of the presidential vote in April 2022.

The regional election was delayed for three months because of the pandemic. There will be a second-round run-off on 27 June.