FN Loses – Narrow Margin Raises Fears

The Union pour un mouvement populaire has beaten the Front national in the Villeneuve-sur-Lot special election to replace disgraced former Parti socialiste MP, Jérôme Cahuzac. While most on the French political left and center are relieved that the FN has been defeated, many are expressing shock and dismay at how close the socially ultraconservative party came to victory.

UMP nominee Jean-Louis Costes beat the FN’s Etienne Bousquet-Cassagne by a margin of 53.76% to 46.24%. With this loss, the FN remains a virtual non-presence in the National Assembly, holding a mere two seats out of 577.

This is just the latest instance where the FN has been foiled by France’s two-tiered electoral system. French electoral rules have allowed a number of FN candidates to contest runoff elections, but they almost invariably lose to coalitions of UMP and Parti Socialiste supporters.

Undoubtedly, French progressives are relieved to see the FN kept on the fringes of the French parliament. Indeed, earlier this week many were calling the election for Bousquet-Cassagne.

In a congratulatory message to Costes, former Prime Minister François Fillon called his win a victory of “common values in the face of extremism.”

UMP leader Christian Jacob said that the election proved that the UMP, not the FN, was “the only credible opposition to [President] François Hollande.”

But the narrow margin of the election—especially in a traditionally Socialist constituency—and the way the UMP drastically swung to the right to lure FN supporters, have been taken as dire omens for France’s political future by some.

Writing for the left wing newspaper l’Humanité, Jean-Paul Piérot gave voice to many of these fears, declaring the election “a true debacle, like another Sedan or Waterloo in the history of France.”

“The FN’s ascension has become normal… The divide between candidates anointed by Marine Le Pen and those endorsed by Jean-François Copé has become so blurred that republican front is no longer an effective weapon to counter the Front national,” Piérot declared.

In the first round of votes, Bousquet-Cassagne eked out second place in a hard-fought three-way race against Costes and the PS candidate Bernard Barral. Alarmed at the prospect of Bousquet-Cassagne in the National Assembly, PS First Secretary Harlem Désir urged party members to “block the FN” by casting their lot with the UMP.

While the French political establishment wrings its hands, the FN is holding its head high in defeat.

Speaking after the election, Bousquet-Cassagne, 23, called the result “an electoral defeat but an ideological victory.”

Bousquet-Cassagne arguably had good reason to boast. Between the preliminary round and the runoff, he picked up 7,095 votes.

FN President Marine Le Pen seems to agree with Piérot’s assessment of the FN’s rise. After the election, she declared that “the so-called ‘republican front’ is dead.”

The results, she said, offered proof that soon, the political establishment would not be able to muster enough support to keep the FN out of office.

The young, photogenic, and charismatic Bousquet-Cassagne is a rising star on the French far-right. Called a “Ken-lookalike” in the press and fawned over on right wing websites, Bousquet-Cassagne’s supporters hope that he will give the ultranationalist party a marketable face in years to come.

The election results call to mind the 2002 French presidential election, the only time so far that the FN has contested a presidential runoff. Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine Le Pen, advanced to the last round against center-right incumbent Jacques Chirac, only to be routed by a 64-point margin

In that election, Chirac successfully allied himself with the French left, alarmed at the prospect of a Holocaust denier being elected president.

Remarking on the results in Villaneuve-sur-Lot, Ségolène Royal, the 2002 PS candidate, said that the FN’s brush with victory called for a “profound analysis” of the state of French politics.

Trackbacks

  1. […] The Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP) has beaten the Front national (FN) in the Villeneuv… special election to replace disgraced former Parti socialiste MP, Jérôme Cahuzac. While most on the French political left and center are relieved that the FN has been defeated, many are expressing shock and dismay at how close the socially ultraconservative party came to victory. UMP nominee Jean-Louis Costes beat the FN’s Etienne Bousquet-Cassagne by a margin of 53.76% to 46.24%. […]

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