France's Far Right Faces New Barrier ; Mainstream Parties Unify to Prevent le Pen from Splitting Traditional Vote

By Nossiter, Adam | International New York Times, December 12, 2015 | Go to article overview

France's Far Right Faces New Barrier ; Mainstream Parties Unify to Prevent le Pen from Splitting Traditional Vote


Nossiter, Adam, International New York Times


After a stunning victory in regional elections, Marine Le Pen is facing a more challenging political equation in the next round of voting that will test the appeal of her nationalist, anti-immigrant message.

After a week in which she and her far-right National Front party seemed ascendant, Marine Le Pen is heading into the second round of French regional elections on Sunday facing a new and more challenging political equation that will test the appeal of her nationalist, anti-immigrant message.

The National Front was the clear winner in the first round last week, stunning the governing Socialists as well as the mainstream conservative party, the Republicains, and raising expectations that Ms. Le Pen would emerge from the second round with victories in at least two regions and maybe more. But the latest polling suggests that she could be in for a tough battle both in the northern region around Lille, where she is on the ballot herself, and in a southern region around Nice being contested by her niece Marion Marechal Le Pen.

The difference: The Socialist Party candidates, who finished third in the first round of both those races, withdrew this week in order to leave the field clear for the Republicains. Their logic is that it is better to unify the anti-National Front vote, despite the enmity between the Socialists and the Republicains, than to allow Ms. Le Pen to split the vote of the more traditional parties.

Ms. Le Pen and her associates can correctly boast that theirs is the "first party of France," as they did at a rally here on Thursday night: The National Front was easily the top vote-getter among the three leading parties in the first round of the current elections. But where one of the mainstream parties withdraws, the election comes down to the National Front versus the anti-National Front vote. And judging by polls and previous election results -- in local elections in March the National Front was beaten time after time in head-to-head matchups with mainstream conservatives in the second round -- the anti-National Front vote can frequently be a substantial majority.

In response to the decision by the Socialists to leave the field in favor of the Republicains, the party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Ms. Le Pen has been lashing out at what she called "the political mafia" formed by her opponents.

At the rally on Thursday night, in front of hundreds of cheering, flag-waving supporters at the Salle Wagram here, Ms. Le Pen, in between boasts and mocking attacks on her opponents, acknowledged that success for her party was not assured.

"There remains a second round, and nothing is guaranteed," she told the roaring crowd, as strobe lights flashed in the packed hall and music pounded. But she then immediately reassured them by adding that "we know that the moment of change has been initiated."

Her supporters loved it when Ms. Le Pen called the Socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls -- who for weeks has been suggesting an election-day coalition with rivals to block the National Front -- a "junior-grade braggart," using a Spanish-origin word for Mr. Valls, matamor, that evoked his birth in Spain. It was a nod to her party's anti-immigration stance.

In the first round of voting last Sunday, the National Front won more than 40 percent of the vote, shocking France's political and media establishment and underscoring Ms. …

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