On 7 May, France rejected the far-right. But the Front National, which has received four millions more votes than five years ago, is continuing to progress.
With Emmanuel Macron winning the election with more than 65% of the votes, Marine Le Pen’s defeat is clear and distinct. The Front National’s leader called the result of the 2017 presidential election “massive and historic”, but, with 37.5 percent of the votes, the party failed to reach 40 percent, their initial goal.
This year, abstention and blank votes broke a record. 26 percent of the people registered on voting lists decided not to vote during the second round, and more than 4.6m people decided to cast a blank vote – in 2012, 2.5m voters decided not to choose between François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.
“Marine Le Pen came third, after the abstentions and the blank and spoiled votes” Jean-Luc Mélenchon
Taking the abstention rate into consideration, along with the spoiled and blank votes Emmanuel Macron’s score would be 43.63 percent, while Marine Le Pen’s would be 22.38 percent. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the France Insoumise candidate who finished fourth in the first round, said that “Marine Le Pen came third, after Macron, and the combination of the abstentions, and the blank and spoiled votes”.
The Front National’s progress
France massively refused extremism, but the results should be treated cautiously. For the first time, the Front National passed the threshold of 10 millions voters. This is four million more than five years ago (6.4m voted for the Front National) and almost five millions more than ten 10 years ago, when her Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, a holocaust denier, sprung a surprise.
Emmanuel Macron scored 90 percent in Paris but the Front National is continuing to plant roots in smaller cities, the so-called ‘forgotten countryside’, where people suffer from widespread unemployment and can’t identify with Macron’s programme. Marine Le Pen scored more than 40 per cent in 32 French departments – out of 96 – mainly in the north-east and south of the country. These regions have been historically close to the party, voting for Jean-Marie Le Pen during the first round of the election in 2002.
The Front National is becoming mainstream
On 21 April 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen went to the runoff against Jacques Chirac, thousands of people took to the streets of France to show their anger. Led by the left and the students, the movements discredited the Front National’s candidate, who only managed to receive 18% of the votes during the second round.
During these elections, French citizens gathered in Paris after the first round to protest against the Front National, under the theme “Non au F-Haine”, “Haine” being pronounced “N” in French and meaning “Hate”.
However this year, no major protests were organised. Macron’s depiction as ‘the candidate of the globalisation, or the media’ did not make of him the most suitable candidate to lead the so-called ‘Republican front’. The ‘big’ protest that occurred on May Day was not dedicated to gather people against Marine Le Pen but against both Le Pen and Macron. The motivations behind the demonstration were based on the idea that none of the candidates suited them.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who finished fourth in the election, didn’t want to support any of the two candidates. In other words, Melenchon refused to give his vote to Marine Le Pen but declared that he can not vote “for” Emmanuel Macron. His declaration made sense for many French between these two rounds. People didn’t come together against the Front National as it happened 15 years ago. This is just another sign showing how it became normal to see the extreme-right party in the second round of a presidential election.
” In 2002, everybody was like “S***, he (Jean Marie Le Pen) is second”. In 2017, people thinks ‘luckily she is only second‘ ” heard in Le Touquet, outside Macron’s voting station, on the 7th of May.
Finally, by adding Dupont-Aignan to her campaign team between the two rounds, the Front National has been brought out of its isolation. The right-wing has shown for the first time that they were able to gather other political forces behind their own views. Many analysts tend therefore to argue that Marine Le Pen’s strategy to “soften” her party has worked.
The Front National and the legislative elections
“ I am calling patriots to join us and participate in the decisive political fight that starts from tonight” (Marine Le Pen, 7/05/2017)
The legislative elections would be a big test for the Front National, that could persist in a few constituencies during the forthcoming legislative elections, and could constitute a strong parliamentary group. For the first round of the legislatives on the 11th of June, the Front National is looking to ensure their status as “strongest force of opposition”.
Five years ago, in the last legislative elections, Le Pen’s party only managed to elect two MPs in the Assemblee Nationale.
The French political system to elect the MPs is working in the same way as the Presidential one. Therefore, many Front National’s MPs may be likely to reach the runoff. However, such as what happened in the Macron/Le Pen duel, we may see all the mainstream parties would gather against the National Front between both rounds.
Therefore, this scenario would enhance the ‘deep transformation’ she promised to do on the aftermath of the Presidential results, and soften even more her image to improve her ‘presidential’ image.