France’s Le Pen far from finished despite new defeat

French far-right party Rassemblement National's (RN) presidential candidate Marine Le Pen arrives at the RN headquarters in Paris, on April 25, 2022, the day after the results of the second round of t
French far-right party Rassemblement National's (RN) presidential candidate Marine Le Pen arrives at the RN headquarters in Paris, on April 25, 2022, the day after the results of the second round of the French presidential election. (Photo: AFP)
PARIS — Three failed tilts at top office would be enough to end the careers of many politicians. But not, it seems, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is already preparing for legislative elections and possibly even another crack at the presidency in five years.اضافة اعلان

Rather than showing any indication of bowing out of politics after conceding defeat in Sunday’s election to President Emmanuel Macron, the National Rally (RN) chief immediately staked her claim to be leader of the future opposition.

With more than 41 percent of the vote, “the ideas we represent have reached new heights,” Le Pen told a crowd of supporters at an election-night party, vowing a “great battle for the legislative elections” in June.

But maintaining momentum will be an uphill struggle for RN, which has bled members and officials for want of electoral breakthroughs and lacks dense local networks.

Based around a personal brand rather than a party, “presidential elections are traditionally favorable for the RN,” said Sylvain Crepon, a political scientist specializing in the far right at the University of Tours.

“After all, the Le Pen brand embodies nationalism in France the best,” he said, adding this was thanks both to Marine and her father Jean-Marie, who founded the party as the National Front (FN).

But the far more localized parliamentary polls are a tougher nut to crack.

“When you have no significant allies to carry the (parliamentary) run-offs, it’s very complicated,” Crepon said.

With just six MPs in the lower chamber at present, the surge from this year’s unprecedented presidential result might carry the RN into the low double digits, he suggested.

But he said it is “totally impossible for them to form a majority in the National Assembly.”

Voters from the traditional right Republicans and hard left, who backed Le Pen mainly to try and eliminate Macron, will likely return to their political homes for the legislative vote.

‘Leader of the opposition’

RN party spokesman Sebastien Chenu told RTL radio Monday that “the French have made (Le Pen) the leader of the opposition”.

The party was already “looking to the legislative elections,” he said, targeting “an RN group in the National Assembly that will be strong enough to oppose Emmanuel Macron’s policies.”

“We will be the ones to protect the French people during the five years ahead,” agreed party president Jordan Bardella, the RN’s 26-year-old rising star and one of its few figures other than Le Pen with nationwide recognition.

That position will be most fiercely contested by hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has called on France’s fragmented political left to back him in June and deny Macron a majority.

And the RN must also fend off Eric Zemmour’s attempts to claim the nationalist limelight.

The former journalist and TV pundit scored eight percent in the presidential election’s first round with an even more xenophobic message than Le Pen — as well as winning over her niece Marion Marechal and a string of other prominent RN names to his cause.

Between Marine and her father, “it’s the eighth time the name Le Pen has been met with defeat” in a presidential vote, Zemmour said after Sunday’s result, adding that a coalition between his outfit Reconquest and the RN in June is “not an option, it’s a necessity, it’s a duty”.

“That’s a fine way to propose marriage!” Bardella retorted Monday.

Five years on

Looking still further ahead, the RN will likely continue to struggle at regional, departmental and municipal elections, but can expect good scores at European polls under proportional representation, Crepon said.

Above all, some in the party already have their eye on the next presidential vote five years away.

“If every five years we gain 10 percentage points, we’ll make it next time,” RN chief Bardella told reporters Monday.

But it is likely too soon for such predictions, as the field will be completely open after Macron serves out his maximum two terms.

What is almost certain is that Le Pen will contest the election for the RN — despite suggesting during this year’s campaign that she would step back if defeated.

“Marine Le Pen has not prepared a successor, and since there’s no internal democracy, neither has a competing school of thought been able to coalesce inside the party,” Crepon said.

In the long term, she may hope to pass the reins to Marechal, if she can be persuaded back across party lines.

For now, “those who imagine that Marine Le Pen will retire to raise cats are mistaken,” spokesman Chenu said, referring to her penchant for breeding the animals.

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