France held its second round of the regional elections this weekend, and Marine Le Pen’s National Front party was, by all accounts, shut out. As we reported earlier this month, Le Pen’s party did very well in the first round, winning a pluarality in about half of France’s regions. However, this weekend’s run-off results determine who will actually govern in each region.
With most the votes counted, it looks like Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right Republicains party will govern a majority of regions and that Le Pen’s party will govern none.
What happened? A couple of things. First, voter turnout rose from 50 percent to 59 percent, presumably because fear of the National Front induced many who sat out the first round to vote in the second.
In addition, it looks like the various parties collaborated to undermine the National Front. Francois Hollande’s Socialist party declined to compete in some regions, paving the way for a Republicans victory.
More generally, according to the New York Times, “many voters on the left and right appeared to have rallied together to keep the party, whose founder [Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father] has been repeatedly convicted of racism and anti-Semitism, from power.” Indeed, the Republicains candidate who routed Le Pen in a critical regional election thanked leftist voters for supporting him and keeping the anti-immigrant National Front from power.
The conspiracy that some on the American right believe exists in our politics to thwart “true” conservatives from obtaining power now overtly exists in France against its far right. (Actually, we saw something similar, though less choreographed, in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen finished a strong second in the first round of presidential elections only to lose by 82-18 in a runoff against center-right president Jacques Chirac).
I don’t consider this a bad thing for France given the nature of the National Front. However, business as usual won’t suffice. If the mainstream parties fail satisfactorily to deal with the problems that have driven the National Front to the verge of power, all the conspiring in the world may be insufficient to thwart this Party for long. (Even in losing this election, the National Front reportedly tripled its representation on regional councils).
Sarkozy appears to understand this. He stated, that, although his party will “refuse all compromise with the extremes, we must now take the time to debate the fundamentals of great questions that are anguishing the French.” These, he said, are security concerns, frustration with European unity, and unemployment. Each was at the center of the National Front’s campaign.
Based on his presidency, however, there’s reason to fear that Sarkozy talks a better game than he plays. In any event, the Socialists, not the Republcains, will control the national government at least until the next presidential election in 2017.