Paris, France – France’s far-right National Rally party did not get the victories that many experts had predicted in Sunday’s first round of regional elections, a sharp setback for Marine Le Pen as she seeks to strengthen her party’s legitimacy ahead of next year’s presidential race.
Although regional elections in France are usually not significant, analysts have been wary of this year’s race, seeking the results of next year’s critical vote.
Pre-election polls predicted that the National Rally could cover half of the country’s 12 continents.
The fiery right-wing party ended in just one race: the southern region of Provence-Alpes-C’te d’Azur.
Overall, the National Rally received only 19 percent of the vote in the country, which is worse than its result in the 2015 regional elections.
“Our voters did not come out,” Le Pen said on Sunday, urging supporters to “mobilize their efforts” for the second round of the next weekend.
Right-wing political scientist Jean an-Yves Camus told Al Jazeera: “Those who intended to vote for the National Rally mostly stayed at home.”
Voter turnout hit a record low on Sunday, with only a third of voters voting.
Camus warned that it would be misleading to compare regional elections to presidential races, where turnout is much higher.
Nearly 78 percent of the electorate went to the polls in the 2017 presidential election, when Le Pen advanced to the final round, losing to Emanuel Macron.
Since then, the 52-year-old has worked tirelessly to “depoliticize” the image of the far-right party in order to appeal to more key voters.
Founded in 1972 by his father Jean an-Marie Le Pen, the party has long been accused of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.
Le Pen has publicly left his իրեն party with his father, who has been repeatedly fined for Holocaust denial.
In 2018, he changed his name from National Front to National Rally, noting that the old label is a “psychological barrier” for voters.
The image of the party has changed for some since then.
A survey published in April by the left-leaning Jean-Jaures Research Center found that 35% in April 2021 had an unfavorable view of the party, compared with 50% in 2019.
“It’s a radical evolution,” said Max-Valentin Robert, co-author of the Al-Azeri study.
The report predicted that for the first time Le Pen had a chance to beat Macron in 2022.
To do so, however, it insisted that it must win over a large number of major conservative voters.
If there is any trace of Sunday’s regional election, it is that Le Pen has not yet flown into those constituencies.
Macron “has no party”
The main conservative party, Les Republicains, did better than expected, gaining 29 percent of the national vote.
Partner Xavier Bertrand, who provided a surprisingly healthy connection in the Hauts-de-France region, told supporters: “We have liberated this area from the jaws of the National Front.”
Originally predicted to be a close race, Bertrand, nominated next year, won more than 41 percent of the vote, while far-right candidate Sebastian Chenu won just 24 percent.
Macron’s centrist party, La République en Marche, withdrew from the first round on Sunday, with particularly disastrous results, winning only 10 percent of the national vote and not leading in any of the 12 continents.
“Macron’s problem is that he has a good chance of being re-elected next year, but his problem is that he has no party,” Camus said.
Macron and Le Pen are preparing for a repeat of the 2017 vote, both of which have a chance to advance to the second round again.
In recent months, both have been trying to reach out to the same conservative electorate.
Turning right, Macron’s party was accused of exacerbating far-right discrimination and its tough stance on immigration, Islam, secularism and crimes.
At the same time, in recent months, identity issues have been playing a growing role in the French political scene, from discussions of the so-called “Islamo-left” to a conspiracy theory that links Muslim activists to the left to push a particular agenda. – Efforts to ban gender-based language in French classrooms.
Looking ahead, after their last throws, Le Pen and Macron are urging voters to go to the polls in the second round next weekend, warning of the dangers of abstaining.
“Abstaining means losing democracy,” Prime Minister Jean-Anne Castex tweeted on Monday morning, adding that voting was “the responsibility” of every citizen.