More than a third of French voters believe the country’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen “embodies French republican values”, according to a shock poll for left-leaning newspaper Libération published just weeks before key regional elections.
The survey published on Monday nevertheless showed that a significant majority (57 percent) believe Le Pen would make a “bad” or “very bad” president.
But the high level of approval – being recognised for having “Republican values” is a prized political asset – suggests that the National Front’s (FN) strategy of rehabilitating the party’s negative image through relentless domination of the media appears to be enjoying some success.
The FN is riding high. Polls give the far-right anti-immigration and anti-Europe party up to 33 percent national support as France gears up for this month’s regional vote – well ahead of the ruling Socialists, the conservative opposition UMP and other parties which have been consistently trailing behind.
'WE WILL CROSS A MAJOR THRESHOLD'
On Sunday, Le Pen told supporters in Paris that the vote, due to take place between March 22 and 29 (for the leadership of France’s 100 “departements”), was going to be a “monumental shock” to the French political establishment.
“These elections will be crucial in determining the future of our country,” she said, admitting that, while regional elections would not bring the FN into parliamentary ascendancy, “getting into power is something that is achieved in incremental steps”.
A confident FN
Her supporters are buoyed and the opposition is worried.
But historian Valérie Igounet, one of France’s leading experts on the far-right and Holocaust denial, on Monday sounded a note of caution.
“We have information from polls but the elections haven’t happened yet and we don’t know what the results will be,” she told FRANCE 24.
Indeed, despite the FN’s lead against other (fringe and mainstream) parties, France’s first-past-the-post system means it is unlikely that the far-right party will sweep to a landslide victory or dominate many regional councils: if no party achieves 50 percent in the first round of voting, many voters are likely to turn out at the second round to keep the FN out.
But the momentum is palpable, and Le Pen’s anti-Europe and anti-immigration party is in a confident mood.
“Marine Le Pen is omnipresent in the media, pushing the FN’s strategy of rehabilitating the party’s image,” Igounet said, referring to the FN’s public rejection of its racist roots and the party’s insistence that its anti-immigration and anti-Europe stance is simply economic pragmatism.
“She embodies a strategy in relation to the media that is completely different to that of her father [FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen], who only spoke to the media to be deliberately provocative.”
Le Pen senior certainly succeeded as a provocateur, famously saying in 1987 that the Holocaust was "just a detail in the Second World War" – a comment that landed him one of his numerous convictions for breaching France’s anti-Semitism laws.
“The FN has changed over the years, and its pool of supporters has changed significantly since the mid-1990s,” Igounet said. “But it is still very much an extreme-right party.”
“And if it does enjoy significant successes in this month’s elections, Le Pen will have achieved another step in the FN strategy of planting the party firmly into the [mainstream] French political landscape,” she added.
“If this happens, what she said on Sunday will be true: it will be a monumental shock.”
Date created : 2015-03-02