France's National Front Defeated, For Now
MIN READDec 14, 2015 | 17:33 GMT
The right-wing National Front party will not control any regions in France. Despite its strong showing in the first round of elections, in which it earned more than 40 percent of the vote in the densely populated regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy in the north and Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur in the south, the nationalist party failed to win any districts in the second round of voting Dec. 13. However, the party led by Marine Le Pen will continue to be a key political player in the months ahead of the 2017 French presidential election.
In many ways, the results of the Dec. 13 elections are not surprising. France's electoral system is explicitly designed to prevent extremist parties from accessing power, and it was this that prevented the National Front from winning regions in the runoff vote. In this case, France's ruling Socialist party decided not to participate in the runoff vote in those regions where it did not have a serious chance of winning, hoping that voters would choose the center-right The Republicans party over the National Front. This is exactly what happened, and the National Front saw only a small increase in popular support between the first and the second round. As Stratfor wrote after the first round, many voters who supported moderate forces in the first round will probably support other parties to keep the National Front from winning again.
In other words, most people who wanted to vote for the National Front did so in the first round, but only a small number of additional voters supported the party in the second round. In addition, there was a higher voter turnout in the second round, which suggests that many voters who did not participate in the first round made the conscious decision to vote in the second to prevent the National Front from winning.
The party had a similar problem in the presidential elections of 2002, when party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen surprisingly made it to the runoff election but failed to win enough new support between the first and the second rounds to win. While Jean-Marie’s daughter Marine has considerably improved the party's image, a large sector of the electorate still opposes the National Front, denying the party votes necessary for electoral victories. Of course, the National Front's popularity has grown since the beginning of the eurozone and refugee crises. Still, the party is relatively isolated politically and is finding it difficult to form the party alliances it needs to access power, particularly in the upcoming presidential election.
The National Front is relatively isolated politically and is finding it difficult to form the party alliances it needs to access power, particularly in the upcoming presidential election.
As Stratfor explained, though the National Front received almost 7 million votes in the second round — a record for the party — that is still not enough to win the presidency. Current President Francois Hollande received more than 10 million votes in the first round of the presidential election in 2012 and more than 18 million in the second round. Most opinion polls show that the National Front will make it to the second round in the presidential election but will struggle to win the runoff vote, especially if it competes against a center-right candidate.
While the Dec. 13 vote may be a disappointment for the National Front, it does not diminish the party's defining role in French politics. The ruling Socialist party continues to poll poorly, and The Republicans have failed to capitalize on Hollande's unpopularity. In the meantime, the National Front has fared remarkably well in regional elections on the promise to enhance France's security forces, increase public spending, re-establish border controls and limit the arrival of foreigners.
Ultimately, the regional elections will force France's three largest parties to reassess their strategies. The Socialists will probably try to promote more traditionally progressive policies to consolidate center-left and left-wing votes. The Republicans and the National Front will have the more difficult task of deciding whether to move further to the right, at the risk of alienating moderate voters, or to get close to the center, at the risk of losing voters who want more nationalist policies. Regardless, the National Front has and will continue to make its mark on French politics, bringing the anti-EU sentiments already on the rise across Europe to prominence.