The Strategist

Marine's Wave: Why Le Pen Will Have Troubles in Following Up the Success in 2017

12/08/2015 - 15:52

French nationalists, led by Marine Le Pen, won a decisive victory in the first round of regional elections. However, it is unlikely that she will consolidate the success two years later on presidential and parliamentary elections.

Rémi Noyon via flickr
Rémi Noyon via flickr
According to public opinion polls, Marine Le Pen, who heads the nationalist party "Front National" (FN) was to achieve good results on the regional elections held on last Sunday in France. Yet, the swing of her victory surpassed expectations. The FN was the leader in six of the 13 French regions. In the region of Nord - Pas-de-Calais – Picardy, the nationalists list led by Le Pen won 40.64% in the first round. In the region of Provence - Alpes - Cote d'Azur, NF’s list, headed by her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, received 40.55% of votes.

Both the right and the left wings were shocked by the results of Le Pen’s party. Polls had been foreshadowing this wave for weeks, yet she caught others off guard, said Le Monde.

The FN’s results was the cause of the ruling Socialist Party’s failure. It got majority in only two of the 13 regions, and the center-right party of "Republicans" became a leader in only four regions against expected six to seven. By the end of votes counting in all the regions, the FN mustered 27.9% of votes, followed by "Republicans" (27.25%) and then the Socialist Party (23.41%). To smooth the impression, the Elysee Palace even chose to summarize results of the two main political camps: the Lefts together received more than 35%, and the Rights - more than 31% of votes.

The occasion’s hero did not take into account the arithmetic: on Sunday evening she called the FN "unquestionably the first party of France." Not hiding pleasure in her victory speech, Le Pen declared that she accepted the election results "with humility, with seriousness and with a deep sense of responsibility."

Next, her party will have to win the second round of regional elections in order to form regional authorities. All the lists, which have gathered more 12.5% of votes, will be admitted to the next round.

Wanting to prevent this, the Socialists are even ready to accept concession and support Sarkozy's party, stepping back at least in the regions of Nord and Côte d'Azur. The Rights are not ready to make such concessions: according to Sarkozy, his associates will neither withdraw from the race (this can play in favor of the nationalists) nor included the Lefts in their lists. Watching these conflicting attempts to create a "republican front" that would have confronted the "national front", the radio station RFI have wondered whether Le Pen will eventually head the Nord region.

British magazine The Economist explains the FN’s growing popularity by overlap of three tactical agendas: the Greek debt crisis, the influx of refugees into the European Union from the Middle East, and the issue of terrorism. These three questions "directly played into the hands of nationalists throughout the continent, from Poland to Switzerland." Le Monde quotes the same considerations saying that in the confused and alarmed country on the verge of collapse, this equation of fear undeniably provoked the disastrous consequences.  

The rhetoric of the FN in 2015 is different from those 10 years old. In many respects, it is a merit of its leader, Marine Le Pen. She has dissociated herself from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the party forty years ago. She broke up his outright anti-Semitism and xenophobia, announced the party’s "detoxification", and began to appeal to "mere French", using the rhetoric, once employed by only left-wing parties. Nord department, where she won, was once the preserve of the Socialists.

Despite of such a turn, the FN keeps its basic message unchanged: fight against immigration, dictates of the European institutions and revival of national greatness of France. "Throughout history, [in the party] were the ones who protected ideas, and those who looked for a way to achieve power," - explained Le Monde in 2012.

Another victory for the nationalists is exactly saying that France has got a three-party system. Back in 2006, Gilles Ivaldi concluded, that the nationalists don’t have a clear structural organization inherent in the party institutions. Their success is obliged to growing protest votes, a general disappointment in the traditional French political institutions and their willingness to support those politicians who raises privacy problems in the course of opportunistic campaign, yet may not have a clear ideology at the same time. In addition, the French Republic’s institutional design itself plays against the NF.

In 2017, the French will go to voting stations once again. In May, they will elect President, and in June - Parliament. In the current French political system, the Far-Rights can hardly count on the presidency. Founder of the NF Jean-Marie Le Pen came closest to this goal more than ten years ago. In June 2002, he unexpectedly beat in the race socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin, who was believed to have had an equal chance of winning in the second round with then-President Jacques Chirac. Before that, Le Pen had tried to win the presidency three times.

So far, opinion polls indicate that Le Pen has every chance to go into the second round in 2017 (she won 17.9% of votes for the presidential elections in 2012). However, there are some difficulties already waiting for her: she is climbing down compared to all the center-right candidates, Sarkozy, for example, with a score of 60:40. The only first rank politician, who risks losing to Le Pen in the second round, is President Hollande. According to a September poll made by Ifop, only 46% of the electorate would vote for him in the second round. At the time, 54% would cast their votes for the nationalists. It should be noted that this survey was conducted before the terrorist attacks on 13 November. Since then, president's approval ratings jumped immediately to 20%, almost reaching the same values that after the election three years ago.

Election system, used in the elections for the National Assembly, guarantees a high probability that the " Front National " will be left out in the cold. The lower house of the parliament consists of 577 MPs. They are elected for five years by direct vote by the majority system, i.e. single-mandate constituencies in two rounds. For half a century, this feature has prevented small parties from getting significant representation in parliament. The only exception was the election in 1986. Then, with the suggestion of socialist President Francois Mitterrand, was introduced proportional election system. The president’s opponents reckoned that Mitterrand wanted to dilute the representation of right-wing opposition by the NF. Mitterrand’s calculations succeeded only in part: the party of Le Pen received 9.65% of votes and formed their own faction for the first time. Yet, the right-wing opposition still got two more votes than the Socialists and the Communists - the center-right leader Shirak formed the new government. His office immediately rejected the proportional system. Already in 1988 was held a new election in which the party of Le Pen received the same 9.66%, but could send only one person into the parliament.

The same thing happened three years ago. In the 2012 elections, the nationalists led by Marine Le Pen received 13.6% of votes and only two seats in the National Assembly.