France’s far-right National Front (NF) saw two of its candidates elected to the French Senate for the first time – a victory dubbed “historical” by party leader Marine Le Pen.
The election, in which half of the Senate’s seats were contested, saw the assembly swing back to a centre-right majority, with a 15-seat lead. President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party, which controls the lower house, losts 23 Senate seats.
Le Pen congratulated the two newly-elected senators on Twitter. She told French news agency AFP: “This is a great victory for the NF, an absolutely historic victory. This is the first time we have entered the Senate, and in quite a fashion, with two incoming senators.”
The NF, created in 1972, has never won seats in the Senate. It now has two, out of 348.
David Rachline, 26, is the youngest senator to be elected since 1958 and the adoption of the constitution for France’s fifth Republic.
In 2011, the age required to be elected as a senator was brought down to 24, instead of 35.
Rachline has been the mayor of Fréjus – the largest city controlled by the NF – since March. A precocious politician and ardent party member, Rachline became a NF municipal councillor for Frejus in 2000 and a NF member for the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Regional Council in 2010. He also was the leader of the local NF youth section and work for Le Pen’s 2012 presidential campaign.
The other NF senator, Stéphane Ravier, is 45 and hails from Marseille where he has had his entire NF political career: in 2001 he was elected municipal councillor and in 2008 as a regional councillor. After a failed attempt to be elected to the National Assembly in 2012, Ravier was elected mayor of the 7th sector of Marseille last March. The city’s largest, it contains 150,000 inhabitants.
"A result beyond NF’s best hopes"
French senators are elected for six years by indirect universal suffrage by a college of 'grands électeurs', an electoral college in each “department” composing 95% of delegates from municipal councils, but also local MPs and members of the “department”s General Council as well as members of the Regional Council.
Due to the indirect suffrage of the senatorial elections and NF’s recent successes at the municipal elections last March – in which the party won control of 12 cities and had hundreds of local officials elected – many socialists spun the party’s results as being merely “mechanical”.
However, according to a Le Monde’s analysis, the results show that “NF’s results go far beyond its best hopes.” Indeed, the votes received by the two senators come from beyond the pool of NF votes.
In the Var “department”, the NF has 215 “grands électeurs”, but Rachline received 401. In the Bouches-du-Rhône, Ravier counted on 210 NF “grands électeurs” but triumphed with 431 votes. Elsewhere, too, NF candidates received votes from “grands électeurs” who are not card-carrying members of Le Pen’s party, multiplying the expected results several-fold.
This shows, according to the analysis published in Le Monde, that NF has successfully seduced local officials who for the most part do not have a party affiliation. This has been a strategy dear to Le Pen and now seems to bear fruit. In total, the NF received 3,972 votes when it had a thousand assured votes from its locally-elected officials.
Socialist Jean-Pierre Bel, the outgoing president of France’s upper house, offered a similar explanation to AFP: “The ‘grands électeurs’ are a third left-leaning, a third leaning to the center-right and in the middle, you have some who follow the mood of the times (…) if some of them were freed of their guilt [to vote for the National Front], this leads to this type of results.”
Controversial rape statement and alleged cronyism
Far from being politically-inexperienced, the two senators have already had their share of controversy.
Rachline, whose deceased father was Jewish, has reportedly been close to virulent far-right novelist and “anti-Zionist” Alain Soral, condemned in 2004 for inciting racial hatred. Soral, along with the “Egalité et Réconciliation” organisation he leads, supported Rachline in the 2008 cantonal elections, the AFP reports.
Accusations of cronyism have been made against him: as mayor, he allegedly hired two companies close to his party, one to conduct a financial audit of the city and the other to organise concerts in Fréjus last summer. Rachline defended himself saying that, in the case of the concerts, the company was the only one to answer the call for bids.
Rachline is also attacked on his right side for being too lenient with the Muslims of his city after stalling to organise a city referendum on the construction of a mosque in Fréjus, a campaign promise of his.
As for Ravier, when news of his election was confirmed, a controversial declaration he made in 2013 about rape resurfaced on social media. On September 28, 2013, while on TV, he declared “rape, after all, is a love affair that one of the two parts wants. The other part could make an effort…” Facing backlash after this statement, Ravier defended himself saying it was merely a reductio ad absurdum , a reduction to absurdity, of the TV host’s position on the legalisation of cannabis, which the newly-elected senator opposes.