French National Front, Le Pen earn dramatic gains in French elections

Describing Sunday’s election returns as “magnificent” and declaring her party is “without contest the first party of France,” Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN) scored a decisive victory in regional elections and is poised to assume control of four French regional councils.

FN won in six French regions with 28 percent of the total vote, took second in two regions and placed third in four other areas.

Nicholas Sarkozy’s Center-Right Republican party followed closely with 26 percent of the tally, winning four regions; Francois Hollande’s Socialist party trailed with 23%, winning in only two regions.

Mindful of the wishes of the majority, former President Nicholas Sarkozy dismissed talk of a union with President Francois Hollande’s Socialists, stating:

“We must hear and understand the profound exasperation of the French people.”

Political analysts provided further insight:

“These results are a shock but they shouldn’t be a surprise.”

 “What Marine Le Pen wants above all is a chance to show that her party can govern more than a medium-sized town. For that, a region with several million inhabitants offers a perfect testing-ground, giving her party time to deliver some results before the presidential and legislative elections of 2017,” said James Shields, professor of French politics at Aston University.

The second round of voting continues this Sunday.

Analysis

Long languishing on the bottom wrung of French politics, building from grassroots and likely inspired by the financial debacle in Greece, skyrocketing unemployment in France and a backlash against a recent surge in immigration from the Middle East, the NF party has become an alternative to years of Center-Right or Socialist administration in Paris.

What must be borne in mind is France’s political map counts only 13 regions; FN is prepared to take jurisdiction in one, with a possibility of claiming leadership over four regions.

Instead of a dependency on “protest” votes as has been the strategy in the past, Le Pen’s party spent several years legitimizing the FN party, organizing a social and economic plank and distancing itself from her father, Jean, FN’s founder, who often emerged as a lightning rod for criticism.

While it is unlikely Marine Le Pen will assume the presidency in Paris next year, she has forged a new path for FN:  the party’s gains can no longer be defined as merely a symptom of restlessness and impatience among the French population.

 

[FT] [Photo courtesy Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images]