As reported in Bloomberg business
disarray in the Opposition UMP party.
The National Front candidate Laurent Lopez took 53.9 percent of the vote in the town of Brignoles to win a seat on the local department’s council. Catherine Delzers, the candidate of former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, won 46.1 percent, according to France 2 television.
Although a relatively minor election, the victory is a warning to both the Socialists and the UMP that Marine Le Pen’s National Front may be turning into a party that speaks for the discontent of a population struggling with the highest unemployment in about 14 years and an economy that has struggled to grow over the last two years
“This vote shows that the French have a wish for change, that we bring solutions for the questions the French are asking,” Le Pen said on LCI television today.
With major municipal elections in France coming up in March and European parliamentary ballots in May, the victory puts both the Socialists and the UMP on notice to find ways to stem the rising popularity of the National Front.
In the first round of the Brignoles election on Oct. 6, Lopez led with 40.4 percent. Delzers got 20.8 percent, while the candidate of Hollande’s party was eliminated. In an effort to defeat the National Front in the second round, Socialist leaders had called on voters to back the UMP candidate.
Le Pen said efforts by the two traditional parties to block the National Front showed it’s now the country’s largest party.
Since 2011, when she replaced her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as the National Front’s leader, the 45-year-old has sought to cast off its image as a gathering of anti-Semites and right-wingers to gain more mainstream appeal. This month she threatened to sue anybody who describes her party as “extreme right.”
The by-election today was for one of the 43 seats on the department’s council, one of 101 such local assemblies in France. Only 33 percent of registered voters voted in the first round, while 45 percent turned out for the second round.
“This doesn’t mean that we can win in every town obviously, but our message is getting out,” Le Pen said.
An Ifop poll Oct. 9 put the National Front as the largest party in France for the first time, with 24 percent of the French saying they’d vote for it in next May’s European elections, up from 21 percent in previous poll in May. UMP was second at 22 percent and the Socialist Party third at 19 percent.
Political analysts have warned that the European elections tend to be a magnet for protest votes, making the poll’s results hard to interpret.
Still, the prospects of growing support for the anti-immigrant National Front is worrying Socialist leaders.
“It would be dramatic to see someone elected who does not carry the values of the Republic,” Bruno Le Roux, the Socialist Party’s whip in parliament, said Oct. 11 on Europe1 radio, calling on voters to back the UMP in Brignoles.
Le Pen polled 18 percent in the first round of the presidential elections in April 2012. The National Front has two members in the 577-seat National Assembly.
While her father was convicted for making racist and anti-Semitic comments, she has recast the party to focus on economic issues and French sovereignty.
She wants France to limit immigration, toughen jail sentences, withdraw from the euro, impose trade barriers, force the Bank of France to fund the government and return the retirement age to 60.
UMP party head Jean-Francois Cope said Oct. 10 on France2 that the “the National Front is amusing to look at, but its policies amount to a programmed economic suicide”