The election of a populist US president means “the supposedly impossible is possible”, Marine Le Pen said after Trump’s victory. But the French electoral system may stop the National Front rising to power. EURACTIV France reports.
Will the election of a populist president of the United States carry the French National Front (NF) to power? After the historic upset, observers on Wednesday (9 November) warned of NF leader Le Pen’s growing chances in next year’s French presidential election. After all, the polls got it wrong twice in 2016, first with Brexit, then with Trump, and many believe the same will happen in 2017.
Alain Juppé’s campaign was quick to warn of the threats posed by the far right party. In a blog post, the mayor of Bordeaux and Republican candidate for the French presidency highlighted “all the risks that demagogy and extremism pose to democracy and the vital character of the choices [leaders] have to make”.
“I do not want the future of France to be in the hands of the NF and their hangers-on,” he told BFMTV, in a veiled jab at Nicolas Sarkozy.
In October, Juppé told Paris Match he found the former president’s “outrageous simplicity” and “endless U-turns” very worrying.
“A call for respect”
But in its own way, the left also hopes to benefit from the Trump effect. “As the threat becomes clearer it will make the smaller candidates think. Now is not the time to be divided,” said a source in the Socialist Party, where some still hope support will rally behind François Hollande, whose polling figures are at an all-time low.
On the other hand, a press release from Emmanuel Macron appears to express the opposite hope: that new forces will rise in the political landscape. “These votes are a call for protection and respect for popular feeling that I think is shared in France. It should be heard and understood, without being allowed to lead to isolationism,” he said.
Le Pen, who has kept a low profile since the summer, appeared on France 2 TV on Wednesday night to comment on the US election.
The National Front leader also expressed her support for Donald Trump in an interview with the magazine Foreign Affairs. “If the elites find the people so surprising it is because the elites are disconnected,” she said, brushing aside questions on women’s opinions of Donald Trump and his lack of respect for human rights.
“It is a mistake to racialise the result of this election,” the candidate said.
“What we saw was a desire to break with uncontrolled globalisation, the desire to return to the notion of borders,” Le Pen added, drawing a parallel to her own election campaign for 2017.
But, for better or worse, the French electoral system puts Le Pen victory at a disadvantage.
“This victory is proof that the supposedly impossible is possible: what the people want, the people get,” she said.
The French polls put Le Pen in a strong position, with around one third of the popular vote. But even if she makes it to the second round of the election as the top candidate, her chances of winning are low, as the supporters of other parties are likely to rally behind the other candidate.
According to an Ifop poll, in a second round face-off between Le Pen and Juppé, the NF leader would lose by 34% to 66%.
“For Brexit and the American election, the gaps given by the polls were small, so the margin for error was large,” a polling expert told EURACTIV. But predictions become much more credible as the gap widens, the expert added.