The challenge from France’s far-right

The >failure of Marine Le Pen’s Front National to win even a single region in this month’s elections in France demonstrates that the majority of French voters are not yet ready to let the far-right party join governance. Had Ms. Le Pen’s anti-migrant, anti-European party seized at least one of the regions, it would have had dramatic consequences for the French polity. However, the election results, as the Socialist French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, himself had pointed out, are hardly a cause for triumphalism. The FN had done remarkably well in the first round of the elections, held weeks after the November 13 Paris terror attacks in which 130 people were killed. The party captured 28 per cent of the vote and came top in six out of 13 regions in that round. This alarming rise of the FN had forced the two mainstream parties — Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right Republicans and President François Hollande’s Socialists — to enter into a de facto deal. The Socialists had even withdrawn their candidates from two regions to support the Republicans against the FN. It took increased voter turnout and tactical voting by the main parties to deliver the final blow to the FN in the second round of elections.

> Also read:The warnings from France’s far-right

However, the FN’s political momentum appears undiminished. What was an untouchable xenophobic far-right party on the fringes of French politics is now a force that cannot be ignored. In the regional election, it received more votes than ever before, and the number of its regional councillors tripled to 316. Ever since she took the reins of the party, Ms. Le Pen has been trying to “mainstream” the FN without changing its basic ideological premises. She isolated the overtly anti-Semitic, racist wings of the party, and projected the FN as a nationalist force with tough views on security, terrorism and migration. The rising security challenges in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the inflow of refugees fleeing the conflicts in West Asia and North Africa, and persistent economic slowdown and the crippling austerity policies of the government that have strengthened calls for protectionism have all helped Ms. Le Pen sell her sectarian narrative to a large section of French society. The way the mainstream parties blocked the FN in the election is commendable. But it’s not a sustainable strategy. If the material conditions that helped the FN grow continue to persist, how long can the Socialists and the Republicans keep them away from power through tactical voting? This is the biggest challenge French politicians face. If left unchecked, the influence of the far-right sections could redraw the French political landscape, endangering the values of liberty, equality and fraternity.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 4:08:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/france-regional-elections-the-challenge-from-frances-farright/article8005322.ece

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