Marine Le Pen seeks an electoral boost on the Côte d’Azur
In the south of France, Marine Le Pen hopes her far-right party is on the verge of breaking a glass ceiling by winning a regional election, thus multiplying her chances of becoming president next year.
Although the winner of Sunday’s vote in Provence-Alpes-CÃ´te d’Azur will only deal with local issues such as transport and school buildings, the stakes are high because the National Rally (RN) of Le Pen could for the first time to seize one of the 13 regions.
It would give his party a chance to prove that it can rule more than the small towns it has so far. While the RN presents a strong candidate, the odds of Le Pen’s hopes bearing fruit also look good.
âIf the RN wins in PACA, it will be a real event. . . This will show that the traditional political parties can no longer stop them, âdeclared Dominique ReyniÃ©, professor of political science at the head of the Fondapol think tank. “If they take a region, that means they can take the country.”
Le Pen recruited the regional RN candidate, Thierry Mariani, an experienced politician from the center-right Les RÃ©publicains (LR) party, betting he would have credibility with voters. Such tactics are all part of Le Pen’s efforts to normalize the extremist movement that his father Jean-Marie Le Pen founded in the 1970s.
They seem to be working. Mariani’s list of elected officials leads the polls, both for Sunday’s first round and in clashes scheduled for the second on June 27. Nationally, the RN is also number one in six regions and on track to surpass his 2015 regional performance when he won the most votes in the first round.
During a campaign rally in the medieval city of Brignoles, Renaud Muselier, incumbent LR president, urged voters not to fall into Le Pen’s trap, arguing that Mariani was a “Trojan horse” to attract voters. traditional right-wing voters. âIt is worrying that people are confusing the presidential election with local elections – don’t make this mistake! he said to a crowd of several hundred.
Even so, many politicians appear to be doing just that, making this year’s regional votes a dress rehearsal for next May’s presidential elections. Parties scramble for influence as polls, in a 2017 rerun, predict a close race with President Emmanuel Macron and Le Pen clashing in the second round.
Adding to the stakes this Sunday, two presidential candidates, ValÃ©rie PÃ©cresse and Xavier Bertrand, are aiming for victory in their respective regions of Ile-de-France and Hauts-de-France. Everyone wants to prove that they are the best flag bearers of the Gaullist LR party.
Perhaps more importantly, regional elections will test political alliances and tactical voting that are essential to France’s two-round electoral system and can make the results highly unpredictable.
As part of an approach known as front rÃ©publican, voters on both the left and the right often vote tactically to prevent the far right from winning and, in their view, to protect the ideals of equality and the rule of law. In 2002, this prevented Jean-Marie Le Pen from winning the presidency. In 2017, he also helped Macron beat Marine Le Pen.
If the beforeÃ©publican recurs remains an open question. It all depends on what the left does – whether the candidates pull out and then its supporters tactically vote against the RN.
In the south of France, the left alternative would effectively put the region back to the far right. As for the center-right, his desire to push back the RN prompted Muselier to sign an unexpected alliance with Macron’s party, a decision that ultimately backfired by unleashing a firestorm in his camp.
Campaigning in Marseille, Mariani rejected the idea that the RN was a threat to democratic values. “The RN is today a party like any other, and has nothing to do with the caricature of the past,” he said at a rally.
“Marine Le Pen has never been convicted of a crime, and she also does not have the same excess of language as her father once,” he added, referring to Le Pen’s conviction in 2018 for denying the gravity of the gas chambers of the Holocaust.
On the contrary, the FN was “ahead of its time” on issues such as crime and immigration, Mariani argued. âIf we win I think it will be good for the region. If Marine Le Pen wins, it will be good for France.
Back in Brignoles, his opponent Muselier does not agree at all on the fact that the RN has evolved or even that he is qualified to run a region of 5m. He called the party by its old name, the National Front, to recall its roots.
“They are the same people and the same ideas, but stronger and even more dangerous because they are camouflaged,” he told reporters afterwards. âI try to unmask them.
That the far right is doing well in Provence-Alpes-CÃ´te d’Azur is not entirely surprising, said ChristÃ¨le Lagier, a professor at the University of Avignon who studies the far right.
In the 1960s, many French residents of Algeria known as black feet moved to the region when the North African country gained independence, sowing the new far-right movement of the time.
Such allegiances have faded over time, Lagier said. But, instead, many of today’s RN voters are young working class people angry at what they see as growing income inequality, limited access to housing and the feeling that they pay too much tax while immigrants receive more government assistance.
Nevertheless, Lagier is not convinced that the RN will achieve a victory here. âFor 20 years people predicted they would win the region, and they haven’t done it yet,â she said.
âIt is difficult for them to attract candidates and competent people. . . There is the paradox of a party winning votes, helped by abstention, but a rather weak political structure.
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The French “pieds-noirs” were greeted with great hostility / By John Murray, Menlo Park, California, USA