Monday, March 24, 2014

Marine Le Pen's Earthquake Rocks France

At the Economist, "French politics: Marine Le Pen's triumph":

Marine Le Pen photo lepen1_zpscad71828.jpg
FOR Libération, it was a “slap in the face”. For Le Monde, another daily newspaper, it was an “earthquake”. The first round of voting in French municipal elections on March 23rd was a clear snub to François Hollande, the French president, whose Socialist Party did worse than polls had predicted in several towns. If there was a symbolic victor ahead of the second round of voting on March 30th, it was Marine Le Pen (pictured), the leader of the populist National Front.

First-round voting is only a partial guide to final results next weekend. But a few early conclusions can be drawn after the polls closed last night. The first is that the French are fed up with Mr Hollande. This will not come as a surprise. Thanks to high unemployment, low economic growth and political amateurishness, his popularity rating, at just 19%, is the lowest of a president of the Fifth Republic at this stage into his term. But this was the first chance the French have had to send him this message through the ballot box.

Voters did this partly by staying at home. Abstention went up from 33% in 2008 to 36%, a new record for municipal elections, and a low turnout tends to penalise the left. There was also a clear rebuke of the Socialist Party in towns where it had expected to do well. In Marseilles, for example, the left had hopes of winning control of a city where the governing centre-right UMP has failed to curb a violent organised-crime wave. Yet Patrick Mennucci, the Socialist candidate, came in third place, with just 21% of the vote, behind both the UMP and the National Front.

To their relief, the Socialists look well placed to hold on to Paris. Although the UMP candidate, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, came out marginally ahead of Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist candidate, in first-round voting, the city’s indirect election favours the left. But the Socialists face a difficult run-off in a string of other towns where they did not score as highly as they had hoped, including Toulouse, Amiens, Reims, Saint-Etienne, Quimper and Caen. Jean-Marc Ayrault, the prime minister, acknowledged grimly in a televised statement after the first-round results, that voters had expressed their “worries” and “doubts”.

It is the National Front, however, that pulled off the real electoral feat. The Eurosceptic, nationalist, anti-immigration party fielded more candidates than it has ever done at local elections, even in its heyday under Jean-Marie Le Pen, Ms Le Pen’s father. It managed to grab control of one town hall, in the former mining town of Hénin-Beaumont in France’s industrial north: Steeve Briois, the National Front candidate, won outright in the first round with just over 50% of the vote, evicting the left. He becomes the front’s first mayor since Mr Le Pen’s party won control of three southern towns, Toulon, Orange and Marignane, in 1995. This is a first in the French north.

Moreover, the National Front came top in a string of other towns, setting it up for a second-round contest.

And at the New York Times, "Far-Right Party Stirs Municipal Elections in France."