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Marine Le Pen’s National Front Faces Reckoning After Loss in French Vote

Posted by hkarner - 14. Juni 2017

Date: 13-06-2017
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Abstentions among far-right leader’s backers in presidential vote harm party in parliamentary poll

Party leader Marine Le Pen

PARIS—After knocking at the gates of power only a month ago, Marine Le Pen saw support for her far-right party crumble in Sunday’s first round of parliamentary elections, dashing its hopes of becoming France’s opposition party and an entrenched menace to the Europe Union.

President Emmanuel Macron’s fledgling party, La République en Marche, trounced mainstream parties across the political spectrum but forced the once-buoyant antiestablishment National Front in particular into a reckoning. Ms. Le Pen on Monday faced a final election result that showed the momentum that carried her in to last month’s second-round presidential vote had perished.

National Front candidates garnered only 13.2% of Sunday’s vote, compared with 13.6% in the last parliamentary election five years ago. Pollster Ipsos Sopra-Steria projected the party would end up with only between one and five seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, compared with between 415 and 455 for Mr. Macron’s party and its centrist ally.

What caused the collapse, pollsters and party officials say, is that the National Front’s primarily young, working-class base decided to sit out the parliamentary races. Around 57% of people who voted for Marine Le Pen in the presidential election stayed home for the parliamentary ballot, Ipsos Sopra-Steria said. The abstention rate among Macron voters was 38%.

The numbers stand in contrast to the National Front’s high expectations going into the 2017 races. In recent years, the party had drawn nearly a third of the vote in local, regional and European Parliament elections.

“This clearly marks a pause in a very, very strong progression,” Ms. Le Pen said Monday while campaigning for a seat in the north of France.

Supporters who expected Ms. Le Pen to win the first round of the presidential race were disappointed when she finished behind Mr. Macron. Her 33.9% score in the runoff also fell far short of the 40% mark she was hitting in the polls.

What followed was soul-searching. Ms. Le Pen floated the possibility of renaming and restructuring her party before deserting the idea. She also promised to hold a party congress after the parliamentary elections to discuss the National Front’s anti-euro stance, which many of the rank-and-file blamed for her presidential loss.

“All voters have is disappointment from the presidential election, and all they hear about is internal difficulties,” said Jérôme Fourquet, a pollster with IFOP.

Mr. Fourquet and other analysts say Ms. Le Pen is likely to retain leadership of the National Front, because the party’s identity is built around her family. They say the only figure who might have challenged her for leadership was her niece, Marion Maréchal Le Pen, who quit the party shortly after the presidential loss, saying she wanted to spend time with family.

In 2012, Ms. Maréchal Le Pen won the party’s only seat in the National Assembly, winning 34.65% of the first-round vote in a southern French district. The National Front candidate now running for her seat, Hervé de Lépinau, won 31.81% of the vote on Sunday behind the La République en Marche candidate.

The party’s best shot for landing a parliamentary seat is in Pas de Calais, an area hard-hit by migrant flows and industrial decline, where Ms. Le Pen herself is running.

Ms. Le Pen scored 46.02% on Sunday, nearly 30 points ahead of her La République en Marche rival, Anne Roquet.

But Ms. Le Pen and other National Front candidates face the same hurdle she tripped over in the presidential race: People who voted for other candidates in the first round are expected to coalesce behind her rival.

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