It’s the unpleasant outcome no one was expecting: Having won 18 percent of the French vote, Marine Le Pen can now be considered the third voice in the 2012 presidential election. Though at one time stuck in fourth place, trailing Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the two frontrunners, the president of the National Front (FN), Le Pen, more than won her share of votes.
The FN, under Le Pen's leadership, obliterated her father's best vote-showing in 2002, when he won 16.86 percent of votes cast, a feat that opened the doors to a second round against Jacques Chirac. Exceeding poll projections from the last few weeks, Le Pen the younger succeeded in reaching the party’s “historic score” of 16 percent.
Le Pen's campaign drew strength by focusing on the fundamental issues of the National Front, immigration and security, but with a new target: the middle class. According to Le Pen's team, this was the key to the 2012 campaign. Taking advantage of the economic and financial crises, the FN candidate focused on discrediting political elites she believed were “responsible” for France's financial woes. Le Pen also capitalized on the general lack of enthusiasm for major-party candidates.
"Anti-liberal” proposals added a new dimension to the presidential race; the extreme right-wing party called for “another vision of man, another vision of the economy,” and for putting "French interests first, above the interests of the financial markets, and above the interests of other nations, including Europe."
The Halal Controvers And The Merah Case
Each FN campaign generates its share of controversies. This year halal meat was the hot topic, reviving the debate over the ritual slaughter practiced by Muslims. Le Pen claims to be the “center of gravity” of political discussion.
“I talked about what was invisible, and everyone else joined in, including on the subjects of halal meat, secularism, the Euro and protectionism, which used to be considered a bad word,” Le Pen said on April 20 on the Côtes-d’Armor, during her final campaign speech.
The only real hiccup in Le Pen's campaign came during her appearance on the TV show "Des paroles et des actes" (Words and Deeds). Undermined by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Le Pen seemed unlikely to get back on track, given her poor performance against the “Front de gauche” far-left candidate.
Then came the Merah case. Le Pen used the dramatic events to take Islam and Islamic fundamentalism head-on. Three days after the death of Mohamed Merah, Le Pen declared radical Islam should be brought “to its knees.”
Le Pen then asked:
How many Mohamed Merahs are there on the boats and airplanes full of immigrants that arrive in France every day? How many Mohamed Merahs are there among the children of these non-assimilated immigrants?
On March 31 in Nice, the far-rightist hammered the point home, saying, “With me, Merah would not have received French citizenship.”
Her controversial statements seem to have have helped Le Pen at the polls.
FN Takes Ground From Sarkozy
Le Pen can also claim the return of traditional FN voters seduced by Nicolas Sarkozy’s speeches in 2007 as another victory. Even though he focused on immigration and the denial of voting rights for foreigners, Sarkozy didn't get the results he'd hoped for on Sunday.
Her unexpected popularity in 2012 further helps Le Pen distance herself from her father, whose antics include the Brasillach quote in a speech, followed by his daughter’s awkward silence, the association of Nicolas Sarkozy’s initials with national-socialism, and this time, Marine Le Pen’s “apologies." Her attitude during the 2012 campaign helped rehabilitate a dying party, validated by Sunday's outcome.
At 43 years old, and in her first presidential election, Marine Le Pen managed to rouse the FN base and create a stronger foothold in the political landscape. FN strategists can congratulate themselves on their small success, then hoping for Nicolas Sarkozy’s defeat on May 6. If that comes, an implosion of the UMP could allow Le Pen could to become the glue for a new sovereign-patriotic movement.