France must face possibility of a ‘President Marine Le Pen’

After Donald Trump's earth-shaking win and Britain stunning the EU by voting out, France must now accept the possibility far-right Marine Le Pen could actually pull off a hat-trick of shocks in next year's French presidential election.

France must face possibility of a 'President Marine Le Pen'

Marine Le Pen congratulated Donald Trump on becoming the new president of the United States long before the official results were in.

A sign that the leader of the populist far-right National Front party is bouncing with confidence on Wednesday.

And you can’t blame her.

“Madame Frexit” as she dubbed herself, has already been given a huge boost this summer by Britain’s rejection of the EU.

And if Le Pen and her party needed any more proof that populism was proving popular it came in the form of 47.7 percent of the American electorate voting for their own anti-establishment, wildcard candidate in the form of Trump.

“Their world is crumbling, ours is being built” was how National Front deputy leader Florian Philippot summed it up. 

“Today, the United States, tomorrow France. Bravo America!” cheered Jean-Marie Le Pen the founder of the the National Front.

For once it didn’t feel like inflated populist rhetoric.

But can Le Pen really complete a hat trick of shock vote victories?

“It’s now a hypothesis that everyone should take seriously,” French political commentator Philippe Marliere told The Local on Wednesday.

“That doesn’t mean it will happen, but it’s now something we have to consider is a possibility.

“And I would never have said that a few years ago. But Trump, with his populist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant discourse has managed to take over the most powerful democracy in the world. So why can’t it happen in France?”

French newspaper Le Monde carried a similar warning: “In the world that has opened up with this election, anything is possible – even that which we have difficulty facing up to – an extremist party taking power.”

Former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin added: “The main lesson for us in France is that Marine Le Pen can win”.

In next spring's presidential elections Le Pen is expected to top the first round of voting.

But polls show she is likely to be defeated in the second round, as her party was in last year's regional elections, when tactical voting kept them out of power.

But who is willing to trust opinion polls anymore after both Brexit and Trump defied them?

“There's a global awakening,” Le Pen told reporters last month in the southern town of Frejus where supporters flocked to hear her bashing the EU, the euro and immigration.

In echoes of Trump's “Make America Great Again” or Brexit's “Take Control” slogans, she declared that “the time of the nation state has come again.”

Le Pen, who has worked hard to clean up the image of her party, knows that in France there are similar conditions and a similar climate to the UK and the United States.

There are swathes of disenfranchised voters, white working classes who feel abandoned, record unemployment, rapid de-industrialisation, devastating jihadist terror attacks, a migrant crisis and a longstanding resistance to change among many voters, especially in the rural France.

There is also the weak and disunited left which has had a shot at power and failed to achieve what it promised voters and a right which is failing to convince the electorate that it is a better alternative.

In France's depressed north, for example, voters in former leftist bastions have decamped in droves to the protectionist National Front, out of frustration with the government's failure to halt factory closures.

Into this setting anti-establishment figures like UKip’s Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen can find fallow turf to plough their populist anti-EU, anti-globalisation and anti-immigration rhetoric.

“There could be a kind of contagion effect. Disenfranchised voters will see it happen elsewhere and think why not in France?” says political commentator Marliere.

(Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. AFP)

The best scenario for Le Pen would be a second round face off against former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is deeply unpopular among left wing voters, many of whom are horrified at the prospect of having to tactically vote for “Sarko” to keep Le Pen out.

Sarkozy has lurched to the right in his bid to win back the Elysée Palace and his rhetoric is even more anti-Islam and anti-Immigration than Le Pen’s.

“If people have the option of a copy or the original, they will always go for the original,” said Marliere.

Le Pen has the advantage that with Brexit unlikely to be triggered before May’s elections and Trump only taking office in January, it's unlikely there will be any catastrophic effects that may dissuade French voters from putting a cross in the box next to her name.

Jean-Yves Camus, a researcher who specialises in far-right movements, said her trump card was that she had never been in government.

“It conceals many aspects in her programme that lack credibility,” he said.

“She is absolutely convinced she can win,” one of Le Pen's advisors told AFP recently.


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