French politicians from left to right have persuaded a Green candidate to withdraw from the second round of regional elections next weekend to try to ensure that Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National does not make history by winning control of the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

Although the anti-immigration RN did worse than expected across France in the first round on Sunday, it led the field in Paca, where its candidate Thierry Mariani won 36 per cent of the votes.

President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist La République en Marche party also performed poorly nationally, and failed to make the second round in regions such as the Hauts-de-France in the north. There, centre-right incumbent Xavier Bertrand won the most votes and boasted of “breaking the jaws” of his RN rivals.

But that was not the case in Provence, where Renaud Muselier, the centre-right Les Républicains incumbent who is supported by Macron’s party, got 32 per cent, coming second to the RN’s Mariani. That sparked the talks about how to beat the RN candidate.

Jean-Laurent Félizia, who heads a green-left coalition list, qualified as the third candidate for Paca’s second round with 17 per cent. Had he resisted the pleas of the Green, Socialist, Communist and centre-right leaders to step aside, he would have split the anti-Le Pen vote and increased the chances of the RN gaining control of a region that includes Marseille, Nice and Cannes.

“We can’t take a gamble with this election,” said Julien Bayou, national secretary of the Greens. “The Front National risk is too great,” he told Franceinfo radio, using the old name of the RN party.

Socialist leader Olivier Faure added: “The left cannot be responsible for an RN victory that would be a springboard for Marine Le Pen next year” in the presidential election.

On Monday afternoon, Félizia agreed to step aside and leave the regional council with no leftwing or green representatives. “It was a heart-wrenching choice,” he said. “I will vote for Renaud Muselier in order to block the Rassemblement National . . . I don’t have the right to play with fire for the future of our children, to let Marine Le Pen use the region as a stepping stone for her ambitions.”

Traditional parties have long tended to join forces in second electoral rounds in a so-called “republican front” to keep the extreme right from office. But Félizia had earlier insisted he wanted the greens and the left to be represented on the regional council in the south.

The decision was particularly tough because Muselier might have attracted enough votes even without Félizia to keep the RN from its first regional election victory.

“The score of Les Républicains was pretty good and the RN won fewer votes than expected,” said Christèle Lagier, assistant politics professor at Avignon university. “And the RN does not have that many votes in reserve.”

The first round of the regional election was marked by a record low turnout of about 33 per cent, prompting some concern about the threat to the legitimacy of the democratic system.

Le Pen’s RN saw its share of the vote fall to 19 per cent, down about eight percentage points from the first round in 2015, while Macron’s party, which was founded only in 2016, had 11 per cent.

However, incumbent parties of the left and the centre-right did better than forecast — notably Les Républicains’ incumbent Bertrand in the north.

Bertrand has already declared himself as a candidate for the 2022 presidential election and is currently Macron’s most prominent rival on the centre-right, in a contest that has hitherto been billed as a repeat of the Macron-Le Pen clash in 2017.