Marine Le Pen’s Front National party (FN) last night spectacularly won the first round of regional elections in France, just three weeks after terrorist attacks in Paris. Although President Hollande saw a short-term spike in his own popularity following his handling of the Paris attacks, this did not translate into electoral success for his ruling socialists, who finished third in last night’s election behind Nicolas Sarkozy’s rightwing Les Républicains party. The story of the evening, however, was that both mainstream parties trailed in the wake of the Front National.
Running on a platform which fuses ethnic concerns and tensions surrounding immigration, national security fears, and anti-globalization and anti-EU sentiments, Marine Le Pen has pounced on the seemingly ineffectual leadership of socialist president Francoise Hollande and the public’s loss of appetite for traditional conservative alternatives in the guise of former president Nicolas Sarkozy. Having attempted to detoxify the party of the unpalatable far-right and anti-Semitic excesses of her father Jean-Marie, Ms. Le Pen’s party polled some 28% of the vote nationwide. As The Guardian’s Angelique Chrisafis acknowledged earlier today, Le Pen’s message resonated for a variety of reasons:
“The party leader, Marine Le Pen, achieved a personally high score of more than 40% in the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, the poorest region in mainland France with a population of six million, greater than that of Denmark. Smiling, she announced that her party was now “the first party in France” and that the nation as a whole could “hold its head up again.” She said the party would treat the result with humility and a profound sense of responsibility.
The northern area, hit by the closure of heavy industry, has traditionally been a bastion of the left, with above-average unemployment and poverty rates. Le Pen, who has gradually built up a far-right powerbase there, could take control of the region next week. Key to her high score was the resounding vote for her in the northern port of Calais, where the far right has benefited from controversy over the refugee crisis and thousands of migrants and refugees sleeping rough in the makeshift “new jungle” camp trying to reach Britain. Her score in Calais was more than 50%.”
Despite widespread dissatisfaction, however, the EU Observer website reported that voter turnout was just 49.9%, although this was enough for them to take the lead “in six of the 13 regions of metropolitan France, in second place in 3 regions and third in 3 other regions.” Regardless of turnout, the mainstream parties have a battle on their hands ahead of the next round of elections if Marine Le Pen is not to be proved correct in her assertion that the FN is “without contest the first party of France.”