With or without Le Pen, the great challenge of the French extreme right is to transform votes into power | International

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The strategy of the National Regroupment (RN) has yet to be defined, but the goal is clear: to convert the extreme right, the second force in France in votes, into the second political power and the opposition party to the new mandate of Emmanuel Macron. This is an objective that has not been achieved so far despite having, for years, a solid electorate base that has grown progressively.

Its leader, Marine Le Pen, added 13 million votes in the second presidential round on Sunday. Where is the problem? That is what the ultra party must analyze now, which —like the left— wants to transform the June legislative elections into a “third round” of the presidential elections, the results of which will define who will really have power for the next five years. In this analysis, no one, not even those closest to the head of the party, already exclude the possibility that the future of the RN is a future without a Le Pen at the helm.

Marine Le Pen’s statement that they had obtained a “brilliant” result (even if it was insufficient to beat Macron and settle in the Elysée), was not a mere attempt to cover up defeat. With 13.2 million votes, Le Pen received 41.5% of the vote. That is 2.6 million votes more than her in 2017, when she got 33.9% of the votes. And they are much more than the meager 18% that her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, achieved after qualifying the extreme right for the first time for the final of a presidential election, in 2002.

There are many votes, but not enough. And they have not been enough on previous occasions either. Because the main problem of the RN —to the relief of those who view its increase in votes with concern— is that, despite its progress, it still cannot proclaim that it is really capable of governing. The biggest blow was given in the 2021 regional elections. Less than a year before the presidential elections, the appointment was crucial to demonstrate not only his ability at the polls, but also that he was capable of governing a region. And he thought he could finally do it in one, that of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA, for its French acronym) where he has a good granary of votes. But he came out empty handed. One more time. He has not managed, in all these years, to govern any important city either. The only one of more than 100,000 inhabitants in the hands of the RN is Perpignan. And there, this Sunday, Macron also prevailed, with 52% of the votes, compared to 47.9% for Le Pen.

After the new disappointment of the presidential elections, Le Pen has launched the new “battle”, the June legislative elections that, like the left, he sees as a “third round” that allows him to control, via the National Assembly, the power of Macron at the Elysee. But this is another contest in which the RN has never emerged victorious to date. In its almost five decades of existence, the far-right party has only succeeded once, between 1986 and 1988 —when it was still called the National Front, it was led by Jean-Marie Le Pen and the vote was proportional, and not as now the majority in two rounds—form their own group, with 32 deputies.

In 2017, despite the fact that Le Pen daughter managed to qualify for the second round of the presidential elections for the first time, in the legislative ones that followed she did not obtain more than eight deputies, one of them not even affiliated with the party. The number of seats, which ended up being reduced to seven after a desertion in the middle of the legislature, was so small that they could not even form their own group. The deputies, including Le Pen herself, sit with the “non-attached”, including some exmacronistas.

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Can Marine Le Pen continue to lead a party that fails to transfer the votes in power? Although talking about the RN without a Le Pen at the helm has ceased to be a taboo, and the Marine herself has hinted that she will not seek a fourth presidential attempt, its main leaders have made it clear that the issue of an eventual replacement at the top is not It is under discussion, at least until the legislative ones pass.

Others are not so shy about questioning his leadership now. “No, it’s not a brilliant victory, we have to stop saying stupid things. It’s called defeat. A more honorable defeat than five years ago, but a defeat, after all”, criticized Robert Ménard on Monday, who although he is not a member of the RN, is mayor of Béziers with the support of this formation. Also the ultra Éric Zemmour, who asked for the vote for Le Pen in the second round and who has now called on the RN to join forces in the face of the legislative elections to form a right-wing bloc, attacked Marine’s waterline. “It is the eighth time that a Le Pen has been defeated”, he recalled in reference to the five unsuccessful candidacies of Le Pen father and the three of his daughter.

Marine Le Pen assured on Sunday that she does not plan to throw in the towel. “More than ever, I will continue my commitment to France and the French,” she promised. One of her confidants, the mayor of Fréjus, David Rachline, ratified minutes later: “He has said that he will be at the head of the fight and we will have to count on her in the coming years.”

But after the heat of the first reaction, the responses of their environment begin to be more nuanced.

“Of course the fight is going to continue… one way or another,” his number two, Jordan Bardella, before a party meeting. Le Pen refused to speak. But according to the BFMTV network, she has decided to take a first symbolic step: although she will seek to be a deputy again, she will not recover the presidency of the RN until September, which she left during the campaign in the hands of Bardella. Someone in whom, despite his youth (he is 26 years old), many see the most immediate future of a party that has managed to remove many burdens in recent years, but not the one that perhaps still weighs him down the most: the surname Le Pen.

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