Arriving third in the race with 17.9 per cent of the vote, many people were arguably shocked when it was revealed that over six million French people had voted for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FN) during the first round of the presidential elections. In terms of votes cast over the last decade in France for all types of elections, the Front National is now the third largest party behind the Parti Socialiste (PS) and the Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP). It has broken through to arguably become a legitimate mainstream party amongst its counterparts.
2007 was generally viewed as a disappointing year for the FN with the then leader Jean-Marie Le Pen only finishing fourth in the first round of the Presidential elections, polling less than 11%. However the party seems to have been blessed with a new lease of life since his daughter took over the reins in January 2011. Ms Le Pen has made it her goal to rid the party of an image long defined by her father, his often racist views and questions relating to Holocaust denial. She has sort to soften the discourse, turning away from the anti-Semitism and focusing more on mainstream social issues as well as the usual matters of immigration, the economy and law and order. Clear opposition to the Euro and globalisation is evident but the importance of French nationalism is still there in the party rhetoric
So does this electoral success along with the new change of leadership and direction mean this a new era for the FN in France? Critics say Ms Le Pen still represents the same party lines of that of her father and is simply just playing upon voter’s fears, especially those regarding the high Muslim population in France. Also she may have ranked 71 in the most influential person in the 2011 Time 100 but significantly, Marine Le Pen struggled to get the 500 endorsements from elected officials required to stand in the presidential election at all. However she only lost her parliamentary race by a narrow margin of 118 votes and her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen’s surprise victory in a separate contest along with that of lawyer Gilbert Collard ensured the FN will be represented in France’s National Assembly for the first time since the 1980’s.
The country has witnessed a substantial shift to the right on immigration which was evident during the 2007 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Nicolas Sarkozy. Such a swing had allowed for the legitimisation of the FN as it seeks to court the voters long disillusioned with the other mainstream parties. Voting for the FN is now no longer being seen as a ‘protest’ vote. Ms Le Pen will have to wait another five years before being able to take another crack at the presidency, but the FN is without doubt set to remain a permanent feature on the French political landscape.
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