The Front National is increasingly thought of as "a party like the others"by Jim Wolfreys / December 6, 2016 / Leave a comment
François Hollande is the first standing president under the Fifth Republic, established in 1958, to announce that he will not seek a second term. This is more than just a personal failure for France’s most unpopular president ever. It is a symptom of an ongoing crisis of parties and institutions.
France’s electoral system, based on a two round, first-past-the-post ballot, was designed to undermine small parties that challenged the status quo. Yet next year an “outsider” party, Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN), is currently expected to make it through to the second round of the presidential election. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, did the same in 2002 to widespread consternation.
But this time the Front poses more of a threat. The warning signs have been there for some time. In the 2012 presidential poll the organisation achieved its highest ever score, with nearly 6.5 million votes. In 2014 it sent more deputies to the European parliament than any other party in France. Last year it won the first round of both the departmental and regional elections with around a quarter of the vote.
The Front’s success offers a spectacular rebuttal to claims that populist racism can be undermined by adopting a tough line on immigration. Ever since the party’s electoral breakthrough in the early 1980s, mainstream politicians have fallen over themselves to show how concerned they are about immigration. Leading figures on the centre-left and right have claimed that the FN asks the “right questions” and that the French have reached a “tolerance threshold” when it comes to migrant numbers. They have promised to charter planes to deport illegal immigrants, complained of the “noise and the smell” made by immigrant families, and told Romani people to “go home.”