Thursday, February 17, 2022 – La Minute Monocle
Opinion / Mary Fitzgerald
The first round of the French presidential election is just under two months away, but you would hardly know it in the south of the country. On a recent trip from Marseille to Nice, I saw few election posters and only one candidate on the campaign trail: Marine Le Pen of the National Rally (RN), the far-right party formerly known as of the National Front.
Polls suggesting that Le Pen (illustrated) could face the incumbent Emmanuel Macron in a second round, as she had done in 2017, she was confident during our meeting in Toulon, the third city in a region long stronghold of the RN. I asked her if she feared Eric Zemmour, the far-right provocateur and TV commentator multiple times convicted of incitement to racial hatred who woos his base. She laughed it off. But later that day, in front of hundreds of people in the town of Vallauris, Le Pen gave a speech that was mostly a hard-line rant against immigration. Although few people think Zemmour stands a chance in this election, his rhetoric is clearly shaping the larger conversation.
Even Valérie Pécresse of the conservative Les Républicains borrowed Zemmour’s message in her first major speech this week. To the surprise of many, Pécresse referred to the “great replacement”: a key conspiracy theory from Zemmour’s campaign claiming that a white Christian majority in France is being “replaced” by non-white migrants. This portends a bleak campaign season that many here have little appetite for: several people I met said they weren’t going to vote at all or that they weren’t going to vote at all. a blank vote (a blank vote). France’s abstention rate, which has been rising in recent years, is another unpredictable factor in what is expected to be a volatile poll.
Fitzgerald is a Monocle correspondent based in Marseille.