France’s far-right National Front party (FN) is celebrating a resurgence in support in the first round of local elections on Sunday.
The FN managed to garner around 15 percent of the vote in the cantonal elections, France’s smallest electoral sub-division. The centre-right UMP of President Nicolas Sarkozy only won around 17 percent. The Socialist Party came out on top with 25 percent of votes cast. However, the elections were also marked by a record low turnout, with fewer than one in two voters going to cast their ballots.
The FN will go into a head-to-head second round in almost 400 cantons and in most cases it will be challenging the Socialists.
Many observers point to the FN’s new leader, Marine Le Pen (pictured), as the reason for its new-found success. She took over from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen earlier this year. He caused a massive political stir in 2002 when he made the second round of the presidential election at the expense of socialist candidate Lionel Jospin. Le Pen went on to lose to Jacques Chirac in the second round.
His daughter Marine has been credited with making the party more acceptable to middle-class voters and particularly women. She has shed some of her father’s more controversial rhetoric and while she shares many of his ideas about immigration – namely that it should stop – she appears much more compassionate to the plight of migrants.
Some recent polls suggest that Le Pen could push Sarkozy into third place in a presidential election and even enjoy more support in the first round than any other candidate. It is highly unlikely she could win the presidency as moderate voters would probably rally to block her in a second round, as they did with her father.
But she points to the FN’s popularity as evidence that it is no longer considered a party of protest, but rather one able to govern.