Far-right National Front fails to win single region in French elections
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Despite leading in the first round of regional elections last week, Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Front party (FN) failed to gain a single region in the second round of voting in France on Sunday.
The head of the FN, Marine Le Pen had hoped to make history on Sunday night by gaining control of a region for the first time. But after winning 28 percent of the nationwide vote in the first round of elections, the FN was pushed back in the second round as voters rallied behind the conservative Les Républicains party and President François Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party (PS).
The FN had been riding high, exploiting an unprecedented wave of migration into Europe. The party came out on top in six of France’s 13 newly drawn regions in the first-round vote a week ago. But that initial success failed to translate into any second-round victories.
The FN was defeated in three key regions where it had come in first place last week: Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur and Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine. The Socialists had pulled their candidates out of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur races to defeat the FN and it appears that many of their voters cast ballots for conservative candidates.
Le Pen won around 42 percent of the vote in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, while rival conservative Xavier Bertrand took around 58 percent.
Le Pen’s niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, won about 45 percent in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region against conservative Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi, who received around 54 percent.
In Alsace Champagne-Ardenne Lorraine, the Socialist candidate, Jean-Pierre Masseret, had refused to pull out of the race, even after trailing in the first round of elections. Despite that refusal to follow the Socialist Party’s orders, the FN candidate in the region, Florian Philippot, was defeated by Les Républicains candidate Philippe Richert, earning 36 percent of the vote against his 48 percent.
After her defeat Sunday night, Marine Le Pen insisted that the National Front was the first party of France. She said the election results would not discourage the “inexorable rise, election after election, of a national movement” behind her party.
“Nothing can stop us now,” Le Pen said after polls closed. “By tripling our number of councillors, we will be the main opposition force in most of the regions of France."
Equally defiant, her 26-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who ran in the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region, urged supporters not to be disappointed. "We will redouble our efforts," she said. "There are some victories that shame the winners."
The National Front has racked up political victories in local elections in recent years, but winning the most seats in an entire regional council would have been a substantial success.
The election was seen as an important measure of support for Le Pen ahead of 2017 presidential elections.
Tactical voting boosts Sarkozy's Les Républicains
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s party won seven of mainland France's 13 regions, giving them the largest share. However, it’s almost certain Les Républicains would not have been as successful without the tactical support of the ruling PS.
Conservative candidate Xavier Bertrand acknowledged as much in a speech after his victory against Marine Le Pen in Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie.
“I thank the voters for protecting our beautiful region,” said Bertrand. “I also want to thank the voters of the left who clearly voted to create a rampart (against the FN).”
Perhaps the biggest genuine win for Les Républicains came in Ile-de-France, the country’s capital and most populous region, where the conservative candidate, Valérie Pécresse, came in first.
The major question that Les Républicains face after this election is the role Nicolas Sarkozy will play in the 2017 presidential election. Sarkozy, current president of Les Républicains, had hoped these elections would validate his leadership and guarantee his nomination as the candidate for Les Républicains.
Prominent conservative Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet took a swipe at Sarkozy, saying: "If voters had applied the neither/nor rule, we would have lost (against Le Pen and her niece).” The comment referred to Sarkozy’s neither/nor ("ni/ni") decision not to support left-wing candidates who had a better chance of beating the far right.
Alain Juppé, one of Sarkozy's biggest rivals for the conservative ticket in 2017, spoke of "changing course" in a speech that almost made him sound like he was already a presidential candidate.
Socialists: ‘Success without joy’
Despite losing seven regions to Les Républicains, the Socialists can still claim the election as a victory. The party had come in a poor third place in the first round but managed to keep five regions overall.
In his remarks on Sunday night, Socialist party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadélis set a bittersweet tone.
“These results are a success without joy,” he said, referring not only to the sacrifice of Socialist voters who backed Les Républicains, but also to the fresh memory of last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris. The attacks, which killed 130 people and were carried out by agents of the Islamic State group, played into the FN’s anti-immigrant, isolationist platform.
“People’s aspirations do not reflect xenophobia,” Cambadélis said. The party head called France’s left to work together, and to look to the cooperation seen during Paris’s historic COP21 climate accord as an example.
French PM Manuel Valls – who had warned of a “civil war” in France should Le Pen come to power – hailed the FN’s defeat, but warned that French voters should feel “no relief, no triumphalism”.
The “danger of the far right remains”, Valls said.
Voter turnout played a huge role in the elections, rising sharply from the first round on December 6, and suggesting that many voters had cast ballots to prevent the National Front from gaining power.
Turnout figures were around 10 percent higher than for the first round of the elections, with 58.6 percent voter turnout, according to the interior ministry. The second-round turnout at the same time five years ago was 43.4 percent.
Candidates tried to lure to the ballot box the nearly 50 percent of those who failed to vote in the December 6 first round, and those votes appeared to have been decisive.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)