French patriot party, the Front National, won the mayoralty of an iconic northern coal-mining town in Sunday’s first round of local elections. The Front National also topped the poll in cities like Avignon and Perpignan, prompting calls by the governing socialists and ‘opposition’ conservatives to stop the anti-immigration and anti-EU party’s advance.
In Marseilles, France’s second city, the Front National squeezed into second place ahead of the socialists.
The Parti Socialiste, which topped the polls in 2008, is losing ground to the conservative Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, reflecting the profound unpopularity of President Francois Hollande who has failed to stabilize the floundering economy and an unemployment rate in excess of ten per cent.
The Front National won victory outright, making Steeve Briois mayor of Henin-Beaumont, party leader Marine Le Pen’s blighted northern bastion, once a flourishing mining community. Briois took 50.26 per cent of the vote, eliminating the need for a run-off on 30 March.
Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for left and right to join forces to stop the Front National in towns it might win next Sunday, saying that “all forces have a responsibility to…stop” the patriot party’s progress. A so-called front republicain of left and right was formed to defeat Front National founder Jean-Marie Le Pen in his 2002 bid for the presidency.
Nevertheless, the leader of the conservative UMP, Jean-Francois Cope, said “there will be no alliance” with the left in the final round. The UMP seems likely to keep control of the towns it held and won outright in Bordeaux where former prime minister Alain Juppe remains mayor. It looks set to take other towns away from the PS despite scandals surrounding its former leader, former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The Interior ministry said the participation rate was a record low of 64.09%. Some believe a low turn-out tends to favour the Front National.
Polls showed the PS losing ground but not the jewel in the crown, Paris, where two women, Socialist Anne Hidalgo and conservative Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, were in competition.
The local elections in 36,000 French cities, towns and villages for mayors and councillors is also a test of the resilience of the nationally governing Socialists. The election is the first since Hollande took office in 2012.
Marine Le Pen’s Front National aims to use the local elections to build a grass roots base, with 1,000 councillors and mayors, so as to position the party advantageously for national voting and European ‘parliament’ elections in May.
With Front National candidates through to the final round of voting in an unprecedented 315 municipalities, the party bids fair to attain its goal. The formation of a front etranger by the PS, communists and greens seems unlikely to damage the Front National’s electoral prospects and may even improve them.
The Front National fears that Islamic culture will dominate French civilization if Muslim immigration is not stopped and opposes globalization and the European Union as infringements of French sovereignty. Le Pen has worked to clean up the Front National’s ‘racist’ image since taking over the leadership from her father in 2011.
Speaking on TF1 television, Le Pen fille called the Front National a “great political force” that was supplanting the ‘mainstream’ left and right and planting local roots which had produced “a rather exceptional year.”