FRANCE: fascist RN fails to take region in election second round

By Tash Shifrin | 20 June 2021

A poster of French fascist leader Marine Le Pen with appropriate grafitti. Pic credit: Andy Hay

Update 9.30pm

There’s good news for antifascists as Marine Le Pen’s fascist Rassemblement National has failed to take its target region with the majority of votes now counted in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region.

The RN had taken first place after last week’s first round poll, but has lost in the second round, taking around 45% of the vote against 55% for mainstream conservative candidate Renaud Muselier.

But as outlined below (see Monday 21 June Update) the dramatic fall in turnout for these elections makes it hard to draw any general conclusions.

It is unclear whether the weaker performance of the RN in this year’s regional elections is due to a political shift away from the fascist party or whether it has been more severely affected by the turnout slump – its voters share a similar profile to those who traditionally don’t vote.

No one should be complacent in a situation where a fascist party can take 45% of the votes across a huge region – and the RN is likely to come back stronger during next year’s presidential elections, for which the polls show Le Pen running neck and neck with the centrist French president, Emmanuel Macron.

A more detailed discussion of the RN’s performance can be found below.

Update Sunday 27 June, 2.30pm

The fascist Rassemblement National is seeking to take control of the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region in today’s second round of regional elections. This is a serious threat as the party took first place in the region after the first round of voting last week. A win would give Marine Le Pen’s party control of a huge regional budget.

The second round vote will be a straight two-way fight between the RN’s Thierry Mariani and the mainstream conservative candidate Renaud Muselier after the left stood down. Last week’s first round was marked by a record low turnout, so an increase in the numbers going to the polls could throw all predictions up in the air.

We will update this post when the results come through.

UPDATE Monday 21 June

Full results for the first round of France’s regional elections show weaker votes for the fascist Rassemblement National than at the last regional poll, amid the lowest turnout ever seen in a French election.

Marine Le Pen’s RN, formerly the Front National, had expected to come through the first round with first place in six of the 12 mainland regions – as it did in the last regional elections in 2015.

This time, with the first-round votes counted, the RN has only one first place – in the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region, where its candidate Thierry Mariani, a former minister for Les Républicains who has switched allegiance, took 36.38% of the vote, ahead of mainstream conservative Les Républicains candidate Renaud Muselier’s 31.91%.

The percentage vote for Mariani is lower than the 40.55% won by Le Pen’s neice, Marion Marechal-Le Pen in the same region in 2015.

In seven other regions, the RN is in second place after the first round – behind centre left candidates in four regions and Les Républicains in three. Its highest second-place vote came in the northern Hauts de France region , where it took 24.37% of the vote.

In 2015, the FN performed strongly, continuing a three year surge. Although it failed to take a region, that election was a great success for the FN and the first and second-round votes gave the party a strong base to build on.

Pre-election opinion polls had shown the fascist party in the lead in six regions this time as well.

Turnout

But the turnout in these elections – at just a third of the electorate (33.9%), compared with almost half of voters in 2015 – makes comparisons with the previous regional elections difficult and also makes it harder to see whether the poorer results for the RN are a temporary dip or have more significance.

Voter turnouts have fallen generally in recent years amid disillusionment with mainstream politics and years of austerity. But the drop this time is especially sharp and it remains unclear whether special factors such as the Covid 19 crisis have had an impact.

While next year’s presidential election is expected to be contested primarily between Le Pen and the centrist president Emmanuel Macron, both the RN and Macron’s La Républic En Marche party performed less well than expected in the regional elections.

The votes of the traditional centre left and centre right parties held up better – despite voters moving away from them in the most recent presidential and parliamentary elections.

It is unclear how far the generally low turnout has affected the RN’s performance, as distinct from any political shift away from the party.

As the old Front National’s rise began, we looked in detail at who voted for it. The party’s vote was highest among young people, unemployed people and low-paid workers – a profile very similar to that of people who did not vote.

In Sunday’s elections, the abstention rate among the youngest section of voters was 80%, noticeably higher than the 65% rate for the electorate as a whole, which may have disproportionally affected the RN vote.

PACA contest

The RN will focus its efforts on trying to win the PACA region in next Sunday’s second round. This is now the main danger. A victory in PACA would be a first regional win for the RN and give it control of a multi-billion euro budget as well as a huge boost in the run-up to next April’s presidential elections.

On Sunday night, the second-round PACA race looked set to be a tight three-way battle, with the third-placed centre left and ecology candidate, Jean-Laurent Felizia, on 16.89% of the vote and also set to go through to the second round. But Felizia withdrew from the race on Monday, to ensure a single candidate would challenge the RN’s Mariani – which should reduce the RN’s chances of winning the run-off.

It remains to be seen whether the RN can turn out more of its voters next Sunday to push its vote up.

Questions

And with the unprecedented voter stayaway raising more questions than it answers, it would be unwise to become complacent about the threat of the RN.

Le Pen is still running neck and neck with Macron in opinion polls for the presidential elections, in which the RN has a much higher profile than at regional level. And, as detailed in the main story below, the RN continues to push mainstream politicians further towards the racist right.

Antifascists and antiracists should not drop their guard just yet.

Sunday 20 June, 11pm update

The fascist Rassemblement National‘s vote in the first round of France’s regional elections is down on the numbers predicted in recent opinion polls, according to partial results released tonight.

But Marine Le Pen’s party remains a threat, especially in the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region, where it is in first place after the first round vote and will be seeking to win control of the region in the second round vote.

The partial first round results show that in other regions where the RN had topped the opinion polls it has slipped back to second place.

The election has also been notable for what looks set to be a record low turnout, with only around a third of voters heading for the ballot boxes today. A final verdict on who controls the regions and their multi-billion euro budgets will come next Sunday when the electorate casts their votes in the second round run-offs on Sunday 27 June.

We will have a more detailed analysis when the full first round results are available tomorrow.

Preview

The RN, formerly known as the Front National, could take first place in up to six of the 12 mainland French regions, according to the most recent opinion polls. National polls had put the fascist party on 26%, within a single percentage point of the mainstream conservative Les Républicains’ 27% for the regional elections as a whole.

Strong results in today’s election will be a huge boost for the RN in the run-up to the presidential elections in April next year, in which Le Pen’s candidacy is a serious threat. She stands neck and neck with the centrist president Emmanuel Macron, with predictions hovering at around 25% of the first round vote.

Recent polls show Le Pen is also creeping up on Macron in the most likely second round run-off scenario, with Le Pen projected to take 46%, against 54% for Macron.

A surge by the fascist party at the last regional elections in 2015 saw it achieve its highest ever score of 27.7% – more than 6 million votes – in the first round. It was a major boost for the party, despite not gaining control over any region.

Stronghold

France’s two-round voting system will make it harder for the RN to take control of regional bodies in next week’s run-off elections – but the polls show that it could still seize the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region, centred on the party’s traditional southern strongholds.

Its candidate Thierry Mariani, a former minister for Les Républicains, who now heads the fascist RN’s list for PACA, is expected to take between 41% and 43% of the first-round vote, well ahead of the combined list of Les Républicains and Macron’s LREM party, which is polling at around 33%.

Opinion polls for the expected second-round run-off show Mariani winning the vote and taking the region – making it potentially the first regional government ever to come under the RN’s control.

It would give the fascists control over a budget of billions of euros, as well as education, transport and economic development over a huge area. The RN has already been able to use its control over town hall administrations to create local test beds for its foul policies.

Another RN candidate, Laurent Jacobelli, is expected to be strongly placed in the Grand Est region in northeast France. Jacobelli is polling at 25%, slightly behind Les Républicains’ 27%. But there is a danger that if four candidates make it through to the run-off round, the RN could take the region – the polls show the fascist party could win with 32% of the second-round vote.

Macron

The grim election scenario comes as Macron has shamefully and dangerously ramped up the racism of the French state.

He has unleashed a crackdown on Muslim groups and his hard rightwing interior minister Gérard Darmanin is steering a viciously Islamophobic new law through parliament, in an attempt to steal Le Pen’s colours.

The foul carnival of official Islamophobia keeps escalating. Already, the French senate has added an amendment to Macron’s proposed law banning girls aged under 18 from wearing a hijab (headscarf) anywhere in public.

Such moves by mainstream politicians only legitimise Le Pen’s Islamophobia and racism and boost her electoral appeal even further.

‘Coup’

A further sign of how far French public opinion has shifted to the far right and fascists came in April, when a group of mainly retired military figures signed an open letter that France risked “civil war” due to the supposed “perils” of “Islamism” and “anti-racism”.

It suggested that failure by the state to crack down against these so-called threats would require “the intervention of our comrades on active duty in a perilous mission of protection of our civilizational values”.

The letter was published on a significant date – the 60th anniversary of a failed coup by reactionary generals opposed to Algeria gaining independence from France.

That issue has long been a touchstone for the most reactionary elements in French society. The FN was founded and originally led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of the current RN leader, and a veteran of the Organisation de l’armée secrète (OAS), the brutal paramilitary far right organisation opposed to Algerian independence.

While the direct threat of a military coup is negligible – only 18 of the letter’s signatories were serving soldiers, and only four officers – the letter gained widespread support across the population, with polls showing 58% of the public supported its sentiments.

That level of public support is hugely worrying. Le Pen seized the moment to urge those backing the open letter to support her.

She has built the RN and its forerunner the Front National on anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant racism, successfully “de-demonising” it and distancing its public image from its fascist core.

Worrying

In the 2017 presidential election she scored 21.3% to Macron’s 24% in the first round, and then took 33.9% to his 66.1% in the second round run-off. Those unprecedented votes made Le Pen a beacon of success for far right and fascist parties across Europe. Her opinion poll scores are much higher this time around.

But Le Pen’s other great success has been how far she has succeeded in pushing mainstream French politics further to the racist right.

Tonight’s results will give an indication of the fascists’ electoral strength. These are worrying times for antiracists and antifascists in France and beyond.

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