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Le Pen wins parliamentary seat but French far-right party stalls

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-06-19

France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen won a seat in parliament for the first time on Sunday, but it was a bittersweet victory that masked an underwhelming election cycle for her National Front (FN) party.

The feisty 48-year-old, who lost by a 20-point margin to Emmanuel Macron in May's presidential run-off, won handily in her northern fiefdom of Hénin-Beaumont, a depressed former mining town, with 58.6 percent of the vote.

But her anti-EU, anti-immigration FN failed to capitalise on the populist wave that helped propel Donald Trump to the US presidency and spurred Britain's vote to leave the European Union.

Le Pen's party won eight seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, dashing her one-time hopes of emerging as the main opposition to Macron's La République en Marche! (LREM) party.

The final results also put her seven seats short of forming her own so-called parliamentary group, which would have given it a role in setting the parliamentary agenda as well as influential committee positions.

Macron’s LREM and its centrist ally MoDem (Democratic Movement) swept to a large majority with 351 seats, a figure that was nevertheless smaller than opinion poll forecasts before the vote.

Former bullfighter fails

Le Pen, like radical left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, said record low turnout at around 44 percent cast doubt on LREM's legitimacy.

In late April, after Le Pen qualified to face off with Macron, Bruno Jeanbart of the OpinionWay polling institute said the FN could hope to win between 20 and 50 seats.

In the presidential election, Le Pen won more than 50 percent of votes in her head-to-head with Macron in 45 voting districts and drew a total of 10.7 million votes, a historic high for the far-right party.

WANTS TO FIX A 'BAD SYSTEM'

The FN has two lawmakers in the outgoing parliament, one of whom will not return.

The other incumbent, Gillard Collard, won by just 123 votes over a former bullfighter, Marie Sara, one of dozens of new MPs in the LREM party with no prior political experience.

Senior FN figure Florian Philippot, the architect of the FN's policies to scrap the euro common currency, lost in the former industrial area of Moselle in eastern France.

Emmanuelle Ménard, the wife of Béziers Mayor Robert Ménard, secured a parliamentary seat with the support of the FN. Her husband, a former press freedom activist, has courted controversy by implementing an anti-immigrant agenda in the southern city since 2014.

Leaving EU parliament

Le Pen fought for the same seat in 2012, losing by 118 votes to the Socialist Philippe Kemel, who was eliminated this year in the first round of the parliamentary election last Sunday.

Le Pen complained last weekend that the record low first-round turnout raised questions over France's two-round first-past-the-post system that favours larger parties.

On Sunday she said it was "scandalous" that the FN could not have a group in parliament.

In 1986, under a proportional representation system, the FN, then led by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, won 35 seats.

The FN leader will now have to abandon her seat in the European Parliament, where her party is under several investigations in alleged funding scandals.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2017-06-19

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