“It's not just a symbolic victory, it's a real shift,” Marine Le Pen told French TV channel TF1 just after the announcement that her party-colleague Louis Aliot would be the next major of Perpignan.
The southern city of 120,000 inhabitants, which is ranked France's 30th biggest city, was until this weekend ruled by the right-wing party Les Républicains.
The far-right party's takeover would be a chance to “show our capability of leading large administrative collectives,” Le Pen said.
Le plafond de verre et le « front républicain » appartiennent au passé ! ????
— Marine Le Pen (@MLP_officiel) June 28, 2020
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Sunday's local elections in France were marked by record-low turnout, an unprecedented number of cities taken over by the Green Party, and a failure of President Emmanuel Macron's ruling party to make any significant impact.
Macron expressed his concern over the high abstention rate, estimated at about 60 percent, and acknowledged that the elections were marked by a “green wave”, the presidency said.
With just 22 months to the next presidential election, Le Pen is viewed by political analysts as President Emmanuel Macron's main contender, and her party hailed their victory in Perpignan as proof that things were moving in the right direction.
However the overall results were disappointing for the Rassemblement National (RN, formerly Front National) compared to the last municipal elections in France.
The RN managed to keep the power in eight of the 10 municipalities they had won six years ago, but lost in Mantes-la-Ville in the Yvelines département (the only municipality they held in the Paris region) and Luc in the Var département.
The RN did claim victory in a handful new municipalities, including three small-towns in the Vaucluse département (Morières-les-Avignon, Bédarrides et Mazan).
Except for Perpignan, the party's most significant victories were in four in towns in the north and four in the south.
In the north, the party won Bruay-la-Buissière, Henin-Beaumont, Villiers-Cotterês and Hayanges. Their southern claims included three cities around the Cote-d'Azur area (Le Pontet, Beaucaire and Fréjus), Perpignan and, further east, Moissac.
Several other towns were also won by candidates that were supported by the far-right party, but ran as independent. In Beziers, Robert Ménard, an close ally of the RN, was re-elected by 65 percent of the electorate.
Emeric Bréhier, Director of the Political Observatory at the Jean Jaurès Foundation, said the RN's victory in Perpignan was mostly “symbolic.”
“It's certainly an important victory, but it's not to be interpreted (as a sign of what will happen) on a national level in the future,” he told LCI, adding that he did not believe in an “RN wave” in the upcoming presidential elections of 2022.
Bruno Cautres, a French political analyst from the research centre Cevipof says the big challenge for Le Pen's party will be next year's regional elections.
“If they manage to win one or two regions in 2021, it could be a big boost for Marine Le Pen towards the presidential elections,” he told France Info.