France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen won a seat in parliament for the first time, but it was a bittersweet victory that masked an electoral debacle for her National Front (FN) party. The feisty 48-year-old, who lost by a 20-point margin to Emmanuel Macron in May’s presidential run-off, won handily in her northern fiefdom of Henin-Beaumont, a depressed former mining town, with 58 per cent of the vote, she announced. But her anti-EU, anti-immigration FN failed to capitalise on the populist wave that helped propel Donald Trump to the US presidency and spurred Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
Le Pen’s party won 8 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, dashing her one-time hopes of emerging as the main opposition to Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move (REM) party. Le Pen said nevertheless that the FN, “against a bloc that represents the interests of the oligarchy, are the only force of resistance”. REM and its centrist ally MoDem swept to a large majority with 351 seats.
Le Pen, like radical left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, said record low turnout at around 44 percent cast doubt on REM’s legitimacy. In late April, after Le Pen qualified to face off with Macron, Bruno Jeanbart of the OpinionWay polling institute said the FN could hope to win between 20 and 50 seats. But by falling short of 15 seats in the end, the FN will be too small to form a parliamentary group which would have given it a role in setting the parliamentary agenda as well as influential committee positions.
In the presidential election, Le Pen won more than 50 percent of votes in her head-to-head with Macron in 45 voting districts and drew a total of 10.7 million votes, a historic high for the far-right party. The FN has two lawmakers in the outgoing parliament, one of whom will not return. Le Pen’s 27-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, a darling of the FN and the face of its traditional Catholic base, shocked grassroots supporters by announcing her decision not to seek re-election.
Marechal-Le Pen announced the decision just two days after her aunt lost to Macron. The other incumbent, Gillard Collard, won by just 123 votes over a former bullfighter, Marie Sara, one of dozens of new MPs in the REM party with no prior political experience. Senior FN figure Florian Philippot, the architect of the FN’s policies to scrap the euro common currency, lost in the former industrial area of Moselle in eastern France.
Le Pen was seen as a shoo-in for the Henin-Beaumont seat after scoring 46 per cent in the first round a week ago against 11 rivals, and she defeated a political novice from Macron’s party, Anne Roquet. Le Pen fought for the same seat in 2012, losing by 118 votes to the Socialist Philippe Kemel, who was eliminated this year in the first round of the parliamentary election last Sunday.