PARIS — In regional elections on Sunday, mainstream politicians dealt a stinging defeat to France’s extreme right, dashing its ambitions of taking control of a region for the first time and curbing its momentum ahead of the presidential race next year.
Marine Le Pen, the head of the National Rally, swiftly admitted that the far-right, anti-immigration party had failed to win any of France’s 12 regions. She expressed excitement for the presidential election next year, adding that it “appears more than ever to be the election that allows for changes in politics and politicians.”
The arrangement of the two rounds of voting over separate weekends, according to Le Pen, was “disastrous and unpredictable.” Nonetheless, the National Rally’s performance in the critical runoffs on Sunday indicated that the party remains unpopular with many voters. According to the Ifop polling agency, it received less than 20% of national votes, behind both the mainstream right and the combined showing of green and leftist candidates.
Voters put their political differences aside in order to prevent a National Rally breakthrough, just as they had done in past national and local elections.
Mainstream candidates boasted that they had dealt a crushing defeat to the far-right party formerly known as the National Front. According to official results and polling agency estimates, no area moved camps, with the right maintaining the seven it had previously and the left keeping the other five.
On the right, Xavier Bertrand, the victorious incumbent, boasted that the National Rally had not only been “stopped” in his region, the Hauts-de-France in the north, but had also been “made to recede greatly.”
Laurent Wauquiez, another right-wing winner, said that the extreme right had been given “no room to grow” in his area of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
The regional voting was studied as a measure of whether the National Rally is increasing in acceptability, despite its concentration on local problems and record-low attendance. Le Pen has worked for a decade to dispel the radical image that plagued the party’s former incarnation as the National Front, which turned off many French voters. The party’s continued failure to win a region suggests that Le Pen and her party are still unpopular among many voters ahead of the presidential election in 2022.
However, voter interest was lukewarm at best, with just one-third of eligible voters casting ballots. Among the few who voted, several bemoaned the fact that young people, in particular, appeared to be squandering the last chance to vote until the presidential election in 2022.
Suzette Lefèvre, a retiree who voted in Saint-Quentin, northern France, remarked, “It’s disgusting.” “People aren’t following in the footsteps of our parents who fought for us.”
The National Rally and Le Pen’s prospects of achieving a regional breakthrough were harmed by a record-low turnout of 33% in the first round of voting on June 20.
According to polls, Le Pen’s party was gaining traction. However, this was not borne out in the polls. A key question in the runoff was whether voters would band together to keep Le Pen’s party out of power, as they had in the past, repulsed by her anti-immigration and anti-European Union populism, as well as the racist, anti-Semitic image that the National Front, founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, clung to.
The party swept the first round of the 2015 regional elections, but it was defeated in the runoff when parties and voters united against it.