Saturday

16th Feb 2019

France: National Front blocked, but not defeated

  • Le Pen's party got its highest number of votes ever (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

A week after coming top in six regions, the National Front (FN) failed to win a single zone in the second round of French local elections on Sunday (13 December). It still got its highest ever number of votes, however.

In the North and South-East, where it had the strongest lead after the first round on 6 December, the FN was clearly defeated by centre-right candidates.

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In the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, party leader Marine Le Pen was defeated with 42.23 percent of the votes against 57.77 percent. She was ahead with 40 percent in the first round.

In the Provence-Alpes-Cote-d'Azur region, her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, lost with 45.22 percent against 54.78, also despite a 40 percent lead in the first round.

The results were a relief for France's two main parties, the governing Socialist Party (PS), which won five regions, and the centre-right Les Republicains, which won seven regions.

They can be partly explained by an increased turn out. Almost 59 percent of registered voters voted on Sunday, compared to 49 percent a week earlier.

Symbolic win

In the North and South-East, the PS had removed its candidates to block the FN, helping the right to defeat the far-right. But in other regions, where several candidates competed in the second round, the PS won thanks to the right-wing vote being split between centre-right and far-right.

The socialists won more regions than polls predicted a few weeks ago.

But they lost the top proze, the Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris, where Claude Bartolone, the president of the National Assembly, was narrowly defeated.

The Paris victory is an important symbol for the opposition Les Republicains, led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy. But overall, Sarkozy’s party did less well than expected, exposing its divisions on strategy for countering Le Pen.

In the long term, with presidential and parliamentary elections in spring 2017, the FN challenge will stay in place for both the Socialists and the Republicains.

With a 27.36 percent share of the total votes at national level, compared to 27.96 in the first round, the FN maintained its prominent position.

The far-right party got 6.71 million votes, more than in the first round (6.01 million).

The figure is also more than the record 6.42 million votes Jean-Marie Le Pen got in 2002, when he qualified for the second round of the presidential election.

The FN now has 358 seats in regional assemblies, up from 118 before the elections.

'Inexorable rise'

In a speech to supporters, Le Pen said the results demonstrate "the inexorable rise of the FN, election after election,” and blamed the defeat of her party on the "campaign of calumny and slander, decided in the golden palaces of the Republic.”

"It is the price to pay for the emancipation of the people," she said.

Given the figures, the socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls, said there should be "no relief, no triumphalism, no victory message.”

"The danger of the far-right has not been removed, far from it," he said.

For Valls, the challenge will remain France's economic situation and the response to it. The FN is now the main party of workers, the PS' old constituency.

The election results "oblige us to hear more the French people, and to act, faster, to obtain more results," Valls said.

For Sarkozy, who faces a primary election inside his party next year to choose the opposition candidate for the presidential vote, the rise of the FN questions his claim to be a "rampart" against the far right.

"We now have to take the time to debate things to the bottom, about the great anxieties of the French people, who are waiting for answers that are strong, precise and commit ourselves," he said.

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