French far-right [sic] expected to gain ground in forthcoming local elections
20 March 2014
By Gabriele Parussini
When French voters cast ballots on Sunday in the first round of local elections, they are expected to send Socialist President François Hollande a message: Many of them are attracted to somebody else — far-right [read patriot] leader Marine Le Pen.
The elections, called to replace France’s nearly 37,000 mayors, are largely driven by local issues, and Ms Le Pen’s National Front, lacking the workforce and financial firepower of mainstream [Establishment] parties, isn’t presenting candidates in all constituencies across the country.
But pollsters say the National Front, which is campaigning against immigration, the euro single currency and technocrats, is well positioned to make a strong showing wherever it is present. Meanwhile, the Socialists could lose more than 30 large cities.
“Ms Le Pen has taken the National Front center stage,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist at the Paris-based IRIS think tank.
France’s expected shift toward the far-right [patriotic alternative] in the local elections, which pollsters say could be amplified in May by the European [‘parliament’] elections, will increase pressure on Mr Hollande to clarify his policies and may lead him to reshuffle his cabinet.
Two thirds of the respondents in a recent survey conducted by the YouGov polling agency said they would like to see Mr Hollande replace Prime Minister Jean Ayrault.
Growing at a slow pace, the French economy isn’t generating enough jobs to help bring down unemployment, which stands at 11%, a 15-year high, and the president’s approval rating is hovering around record lows of 22%.
Since taking office in May 2012, Mr Hollande has alienated many French voters with a series of tax increases that haven’t raised enough money substantially to reduce the country’s budget deficit. More recently, he has upset members of his ruling Socialist Party with pro-business proposals.
Mr Hollande risks hitting more raw nerves when he unveils details of a EUR50 billion ($69.6 billion) package of spending cuts in the coming weeks. Artists, nurses and teachers have all warned they could go on strike if their pay or benefits are dented.
Ms Le Pen could be capturing large swathes of such disgruntled voters because the main opposition party, the center-right UMP of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, is embroiled in protracted leadership strife, analysts say.
The National Front was long a fringe party because its founder, Ms Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, frequently courted controversy with anti-Semitic and ‘racist’ remarks. His party won a few seats in Parliament and managed to win only a few cities in southern France in the 1990s.
Since assuming the party leadership in 2011, Ms Le Pen has sought to shed xenophobic rhetoric and hire a new generation of cadres to transform the National Front, which was mainly a platform for protest, into a fully fledged party that can win electoral mandates.
Polls suggest the nationalist party could garner an average 23% of the votes in municipalities where one of its candidates is running. National Front officials say they hope to win as many as 10 medium-size cities, compared with none in the previous local elections in 2008.
Ms Le Pen herself collected 17.9% of the votes in the first round of the 2012 presidential election.
To be elected mayor, candidates must garner more than 50% of the vote on Sunday, or win a run-off against other front runners on March 30.
Wall Street Journal