Le choc! Quelle surprise! The far-right, anti-immigrant National Front (FN) topped the polls in the first round of regional elections in France on 6 December. Marine Le Pen, leader of the FN, is now hailing her party as the largest in France with 28% of the vote versus 27% for former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right Republicans. The ruling Socialist Party (PS) of François Hollande was unceremoniously bumped into third place with only 23.5%.
It was the first election since the Paris terror attacks in November, when gunmen with links to the so-called Islamic State killed 130 people. However, support for the FN has been growing for several years, helped by persistently high unemployment despite the efforts of President Hollande. It’s not the first poll that Le Pen’s party has won; they also came first in the European Parliament elections in May 2014.
So, should we prepare ourselves for President Le Pen in 2017? Not necessarily. There is still a second round of voting on 13 December, and the Socialists and Republicans could work together to block FN gains. Something similar happened in 2002, when Marine Le Pen’s father unexpectedly made it to the run-off against Jacques Chirac during the presidential elections. Then, too, tactical voting blocked the FN from power.
Last year, following the European Parliament elections in 2014, we spoke to François Beaudonnet, a French journalist working as Brussels correspondent for France 2. We asked him if he expected to see President Le Pen in 2017:
No, I don’t think so. It will be very different. [During the European Parliament elections] people thought they were allowed to vote Front National because it was a European election and would send a strong message but wouldn’t have a real impact. We will not have the same result at the national level, so there is no possibility of a French president coming from the Front National. I think we’re not there yet. Of course, if the French political situation keeps on deteriorating then the situation at the national level might be different in a few years. But, for the moment, I don’t think this vote can be reproduced at the national level. They are two different things.
Could Marine Le Pen be the next President of France? Or will tactical voting block her path to power? Is her recent electoral success only a protest vote in regional elections that won’t have a “real impact”? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!