By Satyaki Chakraborty
The French far-right party National Rally led by Le Pen, who is a front-runner in the opinion polls for the presidential elections next year, suffered a major jolt in the regional elections held on Sunday when NR failed to win even a single region out of thirteen in which polling took place. Similar was the fate of President Macron’s party En Marche which could not make any mark.
Ms Le Pen’s far-right party, a revamp of the National Front, won about 20 per cent of votes cast, less than in either round of the last presidential elections. Other politicians welcomed its failure to make gains after it had been widely tipped to win control of a number of regional governments.
Incumbents held on in France’s 12 mainland regions, with conservative administrations keeping control of seven and the Socialist Party — which was humiliated at the last presidential election, winning less than 7 per cent of the vote — holding onto five. President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche outfit, which did not exist at the last regional elections in 2015, also failed to break through anywhere.
In Reunion, an overseas department in the Indian Ocean, the left celebrated the election of Union of the Left candidate Huguette Bello, who was endorsed by the communists and is a former member of the party. She defeated right-wing incumbent Didier Robert.
Hauts de France conservative council chief Xavier Bertrand said his campaign had not only stopped the advance of the far-right but “made it retreat greatly.” And in Provence, an RN target, where its candidate Thierry Mariani lost to Republican Renaud Muselier, Mr Muselier said the people had “chosen to be a free region.”
Ms Le Pen said the setbacks were down to other parties forming “unnatural alliances” to gang up on her party.
Communist Party leader Fabien Roussel said the party was continuing to make gains against the far right, and now had representatives on 52 of the country’s 98 departmental councils, up from 39 in 2015, and doubled its number of regional councillors.
Preventing the RN from entering regional government was very important, he said. “The elected officials of RN will have no record to defend. All they do is talk about immigrants. People are starting to notice the deception,” he tweeted.
The National Rally has never governed a French region and Le Pen on Sunday accused every other party of forming “unnatural alliances” and “doing everything to prevent us from showing the French people our capacity to run a regional executive”.
On the other hand, Stanislas Guerini, the director-general of Macron’s party, said the results were “a disappointment for the presidential majority” The, turnout for the election was very low. Only about 33 per cent of French people voted, compared with 55.6 per cent as recently as 2015, a clear sign of disgruntlement with politics as usual and weariness after the country’s long battle with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In case the next year’s election doesn’t go Macron’s or Le Pen’s way, Xavier Bertrand, a centre-right presidential candidate, would be a key figure as he emerged as the chief winner of Sunday’s regional polls.
Bertrand, who has already announced he will run for president next year, won the Hauts-de-France region handily, with about 53 per cent of the vote. His victory came despite strenuous efforts by Macron and Le Pen to make an impression in the region, which is Bertrand’s stronghold.
“This result gives me the force to go out and meet all French people. There is one necessary condition for the recovery of our country: the re-establishment of order and respect,” he said.
According to the New York Times, Bertrand remains part of their conservative family and has a visceral hatred for Le Pen’s National Rally, which he insists on calling by its former name, the National Front.
For Macron, who has embarked on a nationwide tour to reconnect with the French people after the worst of the pandemic, the results suggest that his recent focus on winning right-wing votes that might have gone to Le Pen may need to be reconsidered. All indications suggest that Macron will position himself as the main candidate against far right guaranteeing security of the citizens which has emerged as a major issue.
On the other hand, there is some possibility of a popular front type of left and socialists joining hands, including the green, if the leaders take the threat from Le Pen as a serious one and decide to fight jointly in the coming presidential elections. Much depends on on how the absentee voters of Sunday’s elections, decide in the presidential elections next year. (IPA Service)