France’s far right shows its strength on May Day
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The National Front held its annual May Day rally in Paris on Wednesday, with the far-right party currently ahead of President François Hollande’s Socialists in the latest polls.
Thousands gathered in Paris Wednesday to show their support for France’s National Front (also known by its French acronym FN), with the latest polls showing a surge in support for the anti-immigration party.
An important national holiday in France, May 1 has long been used by FN supporters to rally in the French capital and demonstrate their commitment to nationalist ideals.
Wednesday’s demonstration began with a march at 10 a.m. from Paris’s Place du Palais Royal. At the head of the procession, FN leader Marine Le Pen marched under a banner that proclaimed "The people first”.
Later, Le Pen addressed the crowd in a speech outside Place de l'Opera amid an air of optimism within the FN as it looks to build on its growing popularity.
In her speech, she claimed that she would act as the “the light of hope” for ordinary French people suffering through the “darkness” of the financial crisis.
"I understand our countrymen when they say they’re losing confidence; that they no longer believe in the political class,” the daughter of FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen told her audience.
In the latest favourable poll for Le Pen, carried out by CSA on behalf of BFM-TV and published on Tuesday, voters were asked for whom they would cast their ballot if the presidential election took place this coming Sunday.
The results suggested that the FN would earn 23 percent of the electorate in the first round of voting – behind former president Nicolas Sarkozy with 34 percent, but ahead of current President François Hollande with 19 percent.
Under the French voting system, this would see Hollande eliminated while Le Pen and Sarkozy would go head-to-head in a second round of voting.
Indeed, with France’s economy flagging, unemployment at a record high and the country split over social issues such as the recent legalization of gay marriage, the FN has been successful in capitalising on Hollande’s nose-diving popularity and the rising number of disaffected voters.
“The French are starting to understand that the free movement of people, the free movement of goods and wealth are ruining French industry,” the FN’s vice-president Bruno Gollnisch told reporters.
However, Le Pen may still have some way to go before she becomes a serious contender for the Presidency, says political commentator and far-right expert Jean-Yves Camus.
Speaking to FRANCE 24, he said that the FN cannot be truly accepted into mainstream French politics until it can form an alliance with France’s main right-wing party, the UMP.
“To make sure that the [FN’s] destigmatisation is complete, the UMP needs to accept that alliances are possible,” said Camus. “However, their leader, Jean-François Copé, has recently reiterated that this isn't yet the case."