A socialist MP, Malek Boutih has just scared everything out of his fellow socialists. In an interview he declared that Marine Le Pen was going to be the next president of France. It’s done, finito, fait accompli. Is he right though? Should we get used to a “President Marine Le Pen”? How far is the presidency from her reach?
For most Frenchmen, Marine Le Pen will never win the presidency. It’s impossible to imagine: most think that the community of the Republic would never elect a president who has been considered as out-of-system, radical or even racist. But the electoral results of the National Front and recent opinion polls tell quite another story. According to those numbers, Le Pen might as well win one of these days. If not in 2017, then in 2022 or 2027.
Hollande and Sarkozy wants Marine Le Pen in the 2nd round
Secretly or not so secretly, everybody wants the leader of the National Front to finish the 2017 first round in 1st or 2nd position and qualify for the second round.
As for the Socialist Party: though the incumbent president conditions his reelection bid to some economic statistics being better, it is widely known that François Hollande wants to run again. And if he runs again, he obviously wants to win again. Some speculate that to win, he would not hesitate to help the National Front and its candidate – as his predecessor, François Mitterrand did in the 80s.
The reason behind this speculation is the fact that Hollande should know that his best chance to win – is a 2nd round between him and Marine Le Pen. (If he had to face Le Pen, he would be able to call for a “Republican rally”, secure his left-wing base and even get votes from right-wing electors.)
Nicolas Sarkozy’s Republicans hope for the same thing: they hope that their candidate, whoever it will be, will have to face the extreme rights’s candidate in the second round of the 2017 presidential election. Thus, to sum up, both “big parties” wish to push the other out quickly and win effortlessly against the far-right leader.
In all scenarios though, the future Republican candidate and Hollande himself need to create order in their own camps. They need Marine Le Pen in the second round, but they also need to make sure that their camp is united enough for them to have the votes to qualify for the second round (just to remind those who are not familiar with the French electoral system: the two candidates winning most of the votes qualify for the second round). Granted, there are some observers, like Jacques Attali, who think that “the race for the 2nd place” might just be the thing to secure the presidency for Marine Le Pen (because she is the only one to race for the 1st place…).
Opinion polls reflect a Le Pen momentum
The common basis of these campaign plans is the assumption that Le Pen would never be able to pull it off in the second round, because French Republicanism is so strong that the majority of the electorate would never vote for her. But is it so sure?
Most opinion polls seem to agree that Marine Le Pen will WIN the first round of the 2017 presidential election. The Republicans and Hollande’s socialists fight only for the second place, and according to their logic, for the presidency.
But opinion polls also say that Marine Le Pen is not losing in all scenarios. For example, a 2014 poll showed her beating the incumbent in a humiliating manner (54% vs. 46 %). In all other scenarios the Republican candidate beated Marine Le Pen – but this poll suggested that the common assumption of she-could-never-win should sometimes be questioned at least by the Socialist Party.
The sort of the presidency depends on the environment as well
On the other hand, Le Pen’s capacity to win (if ever) depends not only on the weaknesses of the others, but also on herself, on her party and on the future of the European political environment.
Here are a few points to consider:
- Marine Le Pen has been working on the image of her party for more than a decade. The attacks she recently led against her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, were the ultimate symbols of a change she intended to make. “Getting rid of the devil” – the main message is this: the National Front wants voters to know that it is a party just like others. So far, the electoral results of the National Front show that Le Pen’s efforts to transform the Front generally pay off.
- Le Pen will have to prove though that she is not unable to govern. In fact, every day Hollande is deemed incompetent by the electorate, the sitting President pushes Marine Le Pen closer to the presidency by lowering the bar. On the other hand, National Front politicians have had indeed very little possibility to work in executive positions. No wonder that most members of the elite are so freaked out by the possibility of Marine Le Pen winning the regional presidency of the Nord: that would give her an executive stature boost for sure.
- The National Front also has half a dozen corruption affairs in its pocket. Though the party has not had the possibility to govern yet, it is not white and clear. Thus, one usual anti-elite argument is out…
- The center of European politics is shifting towards the right. What was extreme last year, may be mainstream next year. Just take a look at the migration troubles of Angela Merkel, or take a look at the successes of a certain Viktor Orbán in Hungary or more recently, of a certain Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland. If things go the way they go, and European solidarity is being challenged like right now, the Nation Front’s new “Republican turn” might be seen as a hardcore right-wing, but acceptable political platform, not as an extreme political platform. Left-wing universalism and internationalism will continue to be seriously questioned by migration and its consequences. If that’s the case, the now moderate islamophobia of Marine Le Pen will not seem to be so extreme either.
- Last but not least, the territorial organization of the National Front is not adequate for the moment to lead a winning national campaign, but Le Pen’s efforts have been concentrated on the issue for years now. The 2015 regional election will be another important event when the party’s organizational strength will be measured. And it should be watched like a hawk by all analysts – it will tell us a lot about real 2017 chances.
To sum up
That said, theoretically, a President Le Pen might be elected in France, though the game is not played in advance. Much depends on her work and on the adversaries work in the future. But if she is elected, it will be not only because of French domestic politics, but also because of European and world politics.
The European political environment might be Marine Le Pen’s best friend in the coming years.