Mainstream parties make ‘fragile’ pact against far-right National Rally in France’s Perpignan

In this file photo taken on January 31, 2020 French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) MP and candidate for the upcoming mayoral elections Louis Aliot speaks on stage during a meeting in Perpignan on January 31, 2020. - In a statment on May 30, 2020, the Europe Ecologie - Les Verts (EELV) ecologist party's Vice-President of the Occitanie region and candidate for the upcoming mayoral elections for Perpigna Agnes Langevine has dropped out of the mayoral race against Aliot.
In this file photo taken on January 31, 2020 French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) MP and candidate for the upcoming mayoral elections Louis Aliot speaks on stage during a meeting in Perpignan on January 31, 2020. - In a statment on May 30, 2020, the Europe Ecologie - Les Verts (EELV) ecologist party's Vice-President of the Occitanie region and candidate for the upcoming mayoral elections for Perpigna Agnes Langevine has dropped out of the mayoral race against Aliot. © Raymond Roig, AFP

Perpignan on France’s Mediterranean coast is seen as the best bet for the National Rally (formerly National Front) as it seeks to win a major city in the second round of the country’s local elections on June 28. All other candidates have dropped out to back the conservative incumbent, but there are doubts as to whether this tactic will hold off the populists.

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In withdrawing from the contest on Saturday morning, the Green candidate left it a two-horse race for Perpignan, between the National Rally (RN) contender Louis Aliot – a former companion of the party’s leader Marine Le Pen – and longstanding mayor Jean-Marc Pujol of the conservative Republicans.

“I am afraid of the people of Perpignan making a deadly choice with their anger and rage,” said the former Green candidate Agnès Langevine, who came third in March's first round, calling on voters to choose Pujol to keep out the National Rally. The candidate for President Emmanuel Macron's centrist Republic on the Move party, who was in fourth place, withdrew on Thursday.

Throughout the populist party’s long-term upward trajectory at the ballot box over the past few decades, a “republican front” has often been invoked to block it – with the other parties from across the political spectrum dropping out after the first round to support RN’s opponent in the second.

However, this manoeuvre had mixed success amid RN’s surge in France’s last local elections in 2014. Although the republican front worked in Perpignan during that previous contest, securing Pujol’s re-election, this year’s first-round results suggest the RN is now in a stronger position.

Whereas Aliot won 34 percent of the vote and Pujol 30.5 percent in the 2014 first round, this time Aliot had climbed to 35.6 percent – while Pujol’s share of the vote plummeted to 18.5 percent.

In this context, many observers see an uphill struggle ahead for 71-year-old Pujol, a councillor in Perpignan since 1989 and the city’s mayor since 2009. “On the way to a fragile republican front,” read a headline in the local newspaper L’Indépendant, highlighting Aliot’s substantial lead in the first round.

As he attempts to win the Perpignan mayoralty for a third time, Aliot has played down his affiliation to the National Rally, with campaign leaflets describing him as just a “candidate for Perpignan mayor”, omitting any reference to the party.

On Saturday he mocked the use of the republican front, describing it as a “scam which allows a failed and corrupt system to remain in place” and saying that “it’s not easy to run a venomous anti-Pujol campaign, then withdraw and call on people to vote for him”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

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