As France suffers the fallout from the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris, the far-right National Front party emerged as frontrunners in the regional election primaries.
“I believe the incredible results of the National Front amounts to the revolt of the people against the elite,” Leader Marine Le Pen said Monday on French radio. “The French people have had enough of being treated like a herd of sheep.”
Founded in 1972 by Marine’s father, Jean-Marie, the NF, or Front national (FN) in French, is France’s ultra nationalist party. In the past, the party struggled with accusations of racism and anti-Semitism. In 2007, Jean-Marie told Le Monde: “you can’t dispute the inequality of the races.” Marine succeeded her father in 2011 and has since tried to distance the party from anti-Jewish sentiments, while maintaining his anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views. The NF also believes that Europe should reestablish its borders and protects what it believes to be French identity. The party is currently calling for hard-line national security measures, like clamping down on immigration and tightening control over France’s borders.
“[The NF] is the only party to defend an authentically French republic,” Le Pen told her supporters in a recent speech. She added that they support “the preservation of our way of life.”
The NF led voting in six of France’s 13 regions, including 49 percent of the vote in the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie. Calais is the site of a makeshift camp of more than 4,000 refugees, often referred to as “The Jungle”, who are trying to reach Britain.
The immediate reaction to the results is being linked with the Paris attacks. Experts on French politics however believe that the political atmosphere has been incrementally moving in this direction for some time, largely due to more extreme rhetoric across the political spectrum.
“She had won before the vote,” Joël Gombin, a political analyst at the Observatory for Radicalism at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, told the New York Times. “The old themes and proposals of the National Front have been reprised in the political debate, not only on the right but also, more and more, on the left and in particular in the voice of the executive branch, and that legitimizes the National Front.”
The NF came in third in 2010 and 2012 regional elections. The party earned two seats in 2012. Last year, however, the NF came in first during France’s European elections, winning 23 seats in the European parliament.
Despite the recent performance, the NF’s gains may not carry over into Sunday’s final round of elections. The Socialist party, whose most recognizable member is current President François Hollande, said it would withdraw candidates from two regions to help former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Republican party, France’s conservatives, defeat the NF.
“There is a surly anti-establishment mood in France, of which the National Front- a quintessential anti-establishment party — is taking full advantage,” Hugh Schofield, the BBC’s Paris Correspondent, recently wrote.
“Of course triumph for the FN will not necessarily translate into power. The regional elections (like most French elections) are in two rounds. Next Sunday, voters may rally around the two main parties. But in two regions — the north and on the Cote d’Azur — the National Front has smashed the opposition. In a third — Alsace — its chances are very strong. Others are not beyond reach.”