terça-feira, 15 de dezembro de 2015
Why the National Front (thinks it) won in France
Why the National Front (thinks it) won in France
Marine Le Pen lost a regional election she never wanted to fight, but her real goal is in 2017.
By NICHOLAS VINOCUR 12/15/15, 5:30 AM CET
PARIS — For Marine Le Pen and her allies, the National Front’s failure to win a single region in local elections Sunday is a bump on the road toward her real political objective: reaching the second round of a presidential battle in 2017.
A day after its poll defeat, the far-right party has rushed to gloss over some of the election’s seriously chastening aspects. The final tally proved not only that Le Pen was unable to rally a simple majority in any of France’s 13 regions, but also that tactical voting by her opponents was highly effective in stopping her candidates from climbing the final rung to regional power.
The mainstream parties are breathing easier, reassured by the notion that the French are still not ready to trust the National Front with the business of governing the country, or even any of its regions.
But Le Pen’s electoral strategists will be looking at different signals, and finding plenty of encouragement. The main one is the National Front’s total vote tally in the election’s second round — which, at nearly 7 million, represents a clear increase not just on its first-round score, but also on its previous high water mark, in the 2012 presidential election.
The progression in total vote share will be seen as crediting the party’s main strategic moves over the past year, which include ousting former party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and trying to widen the party’s appeal as much as possible to pull in disappointed left- and right-wing voters.
The ‘real’ result
While rivals see the final result as proof that voters see the National Front as unfit for executive office, its officials counter by pointing to steady progress in that department, too.
The FN currently counts in its ranks 11 town mayors, two senators, two National Assembly deputies, 72 departmental councillors and, after Sunday’s vote, 358 regional councillors — triple the number it had before. The proliferation of mid-level officials in government institutions lacks the glamor of a regional presidency, but it means more voting power and more FN officials whose salaries are paid from taxes, as opposed to party coffers.
The party will also draw strength from its powerful showing in the election’s first round, when it won a bigger share of the vote than any other party. Already, candidates and officials are pointing to the December 6 result as the “real” barometer of the country’s mood, before the tactics of the FN’s rivals supposedly skewed the repartition of votes by helping to prop up candidates who were weak on their own.
If the party can maintain its momentum, Le Pen will be on course to slide into the second round of a 2017 presidential election, only to lose to a mainstream rival.
The dynamic we have created allows us to work toward 2017 with serenity — Nicolas Bay
“The dynamic we have created allows us to work toward 2017 with serenity,” said Nicolas Bay, a senior National Front official and the party’s main electoral strategist. “We are still progressing in spectacular fashion.”
For the next few months, the National Front is likely to double down on its criticism of elite France and the two mainstream parties, which it says are two sides of the same coin.
Vice President Florian Philippot, who lost a three-way race in eastern France, argued that Sunday’s result confirmed a split between “patriots” in the FN and globalizers in President François Hollande’s Socialists and Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains.
In the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, losing candidate Marion Maréchal-Le Pen pressed that logic far enough to call her opponents’ victory a defeat.
“In the name of the Republic’s values, they sabotaged democracy,” said Maréchal-Le Pen, the niece of the party’s president. “A victory by ganging up 10-on-1 is nothing more than a defeat.”
Relieved of the obligation to campaign on complex regional issues, the National Front will now focus all of its energy on 2017, reassured on its basic political strategy.
Winning the presidency has been Le Pen’s goal ever since she took over the party from her father in 2011 — so much so that she was deeply reluctant at first to run for election in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, fearing that the campaign would drain her and that a victory would stretch her too thin between duties as an MEP and party president.
It was only after much urging by her entourage that Le Pen finally agreed to run, based on the logic that she could not afford to look like a bystander during the race.
Even once campaigning had started, Le Pen made fewer visits to the area than her main rival, Xavier Bertrand, and spent a great deal of her time traveling to support other candidates around the country. When she did campaign in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, her bid was a hybrid of local and national proposals, with an emphasis on the latter.
Over the next 18 months, Le Pen will intensify her attacks on France’s ruling establishment, the collusion between mainstream right- and left-wing parties, and the failures of both sides to bring about any improvement on the employment front or prevent terrorist attacks.
She will keep attacking the EU while pounding away on what she once called “bacterial” migration, which she says is depriving French people of social resources.
As Europe’s focus turns to Britain’s demands to renegotiate its relationship with the EU, Le Pen is likely to draw strength from any public debate about the bloc’s flaws and failings. She has already modeled her own platform after the Brexit roadmap of British Prime Minister David Cameron, vowing to call for a referendum on France’s membership in the eurozone six months after her election as president.
But Le Pen must also face a major challenge, perhaps her toughest yet: widening the FN’s appeal enough that she could win 50.1 percent of the vote. That was a long shot before Sunday’s vote, and it remains one today.
Some of the party’s campaign proposals, namely its offer to withdraw from the eurozone, are still a turn-off for mainstream voters. Pensioners and higher-earning voters, two groups without which Le Pen cannot win an election, are particularly put off by the notion of seeing their life savings diluted by an abrupt passage from the euro to a devalued French franc.
“They have gathered as many votes as they can among French people who are suffering, who are dissatisfied with the government and hate the ‘system,'” said Aymeric Chauprade, a one-time foreign affairs adviser to Le Pen who left the party in November. “But they need to get from from 30 to 50 percent of the vote, and that is going to be the hardest part by far.”
Said Chauprade, “I don’t think they have the means, currently, to do it.”