BREAKING: Marine Le Pen Loses French Presidential Election
Eric Lendrum, Politics Contributor
In one of the next major elections of the year 2017, National Front candidate Marine Le Pen - hoping to continue the National Populist wave started by Brexit and President Trump - has lost the 2017 French presidential election, according to early vote projections.
At the time of this article’s writing, early vote projections indicated that the frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron of the newly-formed En Marche! Party, won 60% of the popular vote to Le Pen’s 40%. This aligns almost perfectly with most opinion polling going into the second round, and was slightly different from the early exit poll projections that gave Macron a victory of 65%. It was noted going into the election that the abstention rate was around 25%, the highest since 1969, while turnout overall was around 65%, the lowest in over a decade.
The election was noted as a historic one for many different reasons. After the results of the first round sent Macron, of the newly formed EM party, and Le Pen, of the previously-fringe FN party, to the runoff against each other, it marked the first time in modern French history that neither of the two mainstream parties - the center-right Les Républicains and the center-left Socialist Party - were represented in the second round. Republican nominee François Fillon earned around 20% of the vote in that first round, while Socialist nominee Benoît Hamon received only 6%. Macron won 24% and Le Pen won 21.3%, while far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon finished just behind Fillon with 19.6%.
Beyond party representation, both Macron and Le Pen would have made for historic presidency milestones in their own rights. Macron, at 39, will be the youngest president in French history. Had Le Pen won, she would have been the first female president in French history.
Macron’s rise to power has been described by France24 as “meteoric.” He first entered the political scene in August 2014, when he first took on the role of Economy Minister under incumbent Socialist president François Hollande. After serving in the position for two years, he resigned to form his own party, breaking away from the increasingly and historically unpopular party so as to increase his chances of winning the presidency in 2017. He marketed himself as a centrist despite his previously Socialist ties, hoping to earn support from both the left and the right, while also drawing criticism from both sides.
Conversely, the National Front has been around since the 1970’s, but was seen as a fringe party for the longest time. Under the leadership of Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, it struggled with upward mobility due to a number of questionable - if not outright offensive - comments about Jews and the Holocaust from Jean-Marie, as well as hardline socially conservative stances such as opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
After Marine took over the party from her father, she sought to soften the party’s image, reversing its stances on such issues as the aforementioned two, and appealing more to those on the far-left with pro-government approaches to areas such as education, energy, and transportation. However, she maintained firm support among the right with hardline stances on immigration, the European Union, and the threat of Radical Islam. The party has since been described as one of the strongest political forces in France, particularly after its stunning victory in the 2014 European Parliament elections, when the FN won a total of 24 seats and thus became the largest French party in the European Parliament. Marine Le Pen previously ran for the presidency in 2012, when she came in a comfortable third place with just under 18% of the vote. Even then, she outperformed polling expectations by finishing nearly seven points ahead of Mélenchon (who also ran that year) and nearly nine points ahead of center-left candidate François Bayrou, despite polling showing her roughly even with both men just before the election.
However, France’s two-round system of voting in presidential and legislative elections has widely kept the FN from actually achieving ultimate power. While the FN has frequently done well in first-round voting due to fractures between so many other parties, the runoffs would almost always see voters coalesce around whichever party wasn’t the FN, mostly out of protest against the FN rather than legitimate support for their rival. The most clear-cut case was the one other time that an FN candidate ever advanced to the second round of a presidential race: Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002, against the incumbent Republican president Jacques Chirac. After Le Pen unexpectedly advanced to the runoff, all other politicians and party leaders encouraged their supporters to vote for Chirac just to defeat Le Pen. Le Pen went on to lose the biggest landslide in French history, with just under 18% of the vote to Chirac’s 82%.
Fast-forward to 2017, where his daughter has more than doubled that performance despite still losing by a sizable margin. This was previously unthinkable just a few years ago, and indicates that, despite an outright victory, the FN can only continue to grow from here. The only other major observation to be made will be whether or not Macron can improve on the legacy of his predecessor - the least popular president in modern French history - and properly address the epidemic of Islamic terrorism in France, which has claimed over 1,000 casualties (nearly 240 deaths and over 800 injuries) in just the last two years alone. Only time will tell whether or not his response will be enough to turn the situation around, or only fuel the already-likely possibility of a third run by Marine Le Pen in 2022.
You can follow the author on Twitter: @EricLendrum26.
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