Old gang parties unite to block Le Pen – but most French voters boycott election

Next year’s election still seems likely to end in a run-off between President Emmanuel Macron (above left) and Marine Le Pen, but both suffered disappointing results yesterday.

The second round of the French regional elections yesterday ended in disappointment for Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN – successor to the French National Front founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen), but disaster for President Emmanuel Macron’s ‘centrist’ party En Marche.

Mme Le Pen had hoped her party might gain control of a region so as to demonstrate its capacity to govern, ahead of next year’s presidential election when she expects to be Macron’s main challenger.

Her main target was the southern region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA), a traditionally strong area both for the RN and in earlier years for the FN. The RN list was headed by Thierry Mariani, who was transport minister a decade ago in the conservative government of Prime Minister Fillon and President Sarkozy and has been the highest profile defector from the centre-right to Mme Le Pen’s ranks.

In last Sunday’s first round, this RN list was narrowly ahead by 36.4% to 31.9%, with the largest of the leftist-green slates on 16.9%. This meant that the latter slate had the right to contest the second round (which is not simply a run-off between the two largest parties, but can be joined by any list that polled above 10% in the first round).

However in a move showing that despite the Le Pen strategy of dédiabolisation (‘de-demonisation’) the RN is still regarded by its opponents as a ‘far right’ / ‘fascist’ threat, the left decided to withdraw from PACA’s second round and endorse the conservative ‘centre right’ slate, headed by incumbent regional president Reynaud Muselier.

This despite the fact that Mme Le Pen is far close to the traditional left than the ‘centre right’ on economic policy. Her party duly lost the PACA second round by 57% to 43%. This was slightly down from the 45.2% achieved by the RN slate (then headed by the leader’s niece Marion Maréchal) in this region six years ago.

Sébastien Chenu (above left) – former head of the LGBT wing of the French centre-right conservative party – was one of several leading conservatives to defect to Marine Le Pen’s RN and headed her slate in the party’s second strongest region, but finished a distant runner-up yesterday.

Potentially good news for Mme Le Pen is that only 34% of the PACA electorate turned out to cast a valid vote yesterday, in line with mass abstention nationwide. In particular, despite calls for a ‘republican front’ against the RN ‘fascists’, 90% of voters under 25 seem to have boycotted the election. Not only did they refuse to turn out to block the ‘far right’ in this second round – they weren’t even interested in the first round, when a vast range of alternatives, from Trotskyists to traditional conservatives, and including different varieties of green, were on the ballot.

Yet it must remain disturbing for the RN leader that although the French government is widely perceived to have failed during the Covid crisis – there is no Boris-style ‘bounce’ for Macron – and despite all her efforts to make her party seem less ‘extreme’, she remains unable to breakthrough to a wider public than the people who have supported her for much of the past decade.

Perhaps as for racial nationalist parties and groups across much of the White world, the RN has been unable to develop a clear message during Covid, with some favouring a version of anti-lockdown or even anti-vaccination theories, while others wanted to maintain a focus on our movement’s traditional issues and criticising (where appropriate) government inefficiency and cronyism in the face of the pandemic.

In the RN’s second-strongest area Hauts-de-France they made almost no progress, from 24.4% in the first round to 25.7% in the second (compared to 42.2% in the equivalent region in 2015, when Marine Le Pen herself headed the slate); in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (one of four mainland regions won by left-green coalitions) the RN slipped from second to third place with 23.8%; while in Brittany (also one by socialists and greens) the RN vote fell from 14.3% in the first round to 13.2% in the second.

President Macron’s party En Marche failed to win a single region, and in several regions polled below 10%.

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