In Sunday’s elections, Marie Le Pen and her far-right Front National made regional gains that could set the stage for Le Pen’s 2017 presidential bid.
Of the thirteen “super régions,” agglomerated from twenty-two last year, the Front National is projected to have topped the polls in nearly half of those regions, earning 28% of the national vote. Les Républicains, led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, almost pulled even with 27%, while President François Hollande’s Socialist Party punched in 23.5%.
So what does it all mean?
First, about the super regions: the councils that run the thirteen regional governments cannot adopt laws, giving them little legislative impact over their own territory or the country at large.
But by dint of the regions’ sizes, the small cadre of councilors who become regional presidents will have a magnified presence on the political stage, meaning the gains by the FN will ensure a heightened profile and legitimacy for the next presidential election.
Despite their lack of legislative wherewithal, the super regions have hefty budgets to spend and control over their localities’ transportation, secondary education, funding for arts and culture, as well as tourism and economic development.
Second, it isn’t over until next Sunday. Unlike the American model of winner-take-all, all-at-once elections, France has rounds: the December 6th elections decided who will go on to the next stage, not who, in the end, “won.”
The setup allows less mainstream parties—like Les Communistes and Les Verts, who poll at 5-7%—a chance to break through to the final round or at least to make an impression in initial polling. Imagine a 2000 presidential election where Ralph Nader got every vote he lost to the fear of “spoiling” Al Gore’s tally, allowing him to make both a larger mainstream impression and potentially capture more public funding for the following election.
Right now, an alliance between Sarkozy’s Républicains and Hollande’s Socialists would crush Le Pen in the second round of voting—but Sarkozy isn’t playing nice, telling his party there will be no withdraws in areas where Socialists are polling highest, even with several Socialist candidates “falling on their swords” to hand an easier victory to Les Républicains.
“…we are explaining to people that we are the only option,” the former president told Europe 1. It’s a statistically risky sell with the FN already projected as the winner for two regions: Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. The bet Sarkozy is making is that his party can steal more voters from the far-right FN than they can from their center-left leaning counterparts.
Third, the Front National could implode in the wake of regional successes, leaving it a divided party for 2017. After succeeding her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as president of the Front National, Marine has tried to reconcile her party with the more centrist twang needed to win popular elections. The party expelled Jean-Marie, the “Devil of the Republic,” in August, four years after his daughter took over.
Marine’s niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, however, won 40% of the vote in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and has been called “arguably… the true heiress to the bigoted ideology of her 87-year-old grandfather” by the Telegraph. And while big gains by the FN may make the party a contender in the 2017 presidential elections, it may also see friction within the party between the comparatively more “leftward” Marine and the ascendant Marion.
Fourth, regional victories won’t necessarily translate to presidential power in 2017. With Sarkozy already balking at an alliance with the Union Of The Left to stop the Front National, it may be that Les Républicains will lose voters to the FN in the election, while the Socialists could siphon center-leaning conservatives who fear throwing good votes after bad.
Of course, the center-left could abandon the Socalists to bolster Sarkozy against the far-right. It’s hard to say this far ahead what will happen—even a week from now, things will be a lot clearer, but no more certain.
In the meantime, it’s time to start worrying about Donald Trump, the drunk man at the bar who is getting progressively more unhinged and incoherent, and whose message the New Yorker has called “uncannily similar to Le Pen’s.”
Featured image: Stock Photos from Frederic Legrand – COMEO/Shutterstock