FALL FROM POWER

Le Pen, Na­tional Front face steep losses after elec­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY ELAINE GAN­LEY

PARIS | Just weeks ago, Marine Le Pen was the can­di­date feared by so many, with much of France shud­der­ing when vot­ers thrust her into the fi­nal round of the pres­i­den­tial race.

In a sharp re­ver­sal of for­tunes how­ever, Ms. Le Pen, who wanted to lock France’s doors to mi­grants, Mus­lims, the euro cur­rency and the Euro­pean Union, is try­ing to sal­vage her far-right Na­tional Front party after it col­lapsed in the first round of leg­isla­tive elec­tions and is set to win just a hand­ful of seats in Sun­day’s de­ci­sive fi­nal round.

The rea­sons her na­tional mes­sage res­onated have not gone away, and she could stage a come­back if ri­val Em­manuel Macron’s pres­i­dency fal­ters. The cen­trist Mr. Macron won the pres­i­dency in part by de­fault, be­cause vot­ers wanted to keep Ms. Le Pen from power and France’s tra­di­tional cen­trist par­ties were in deep dis­ar­ray. His Republic on the Move party is now set to sweep the par­lia­men­tary vote.

Ms. Le Pen blames her party’s down­fall on the record low turnout rate in last Sun­day’s firstround elec­tion and a vot­ing sys­tem that pun­ishes out­siders. But she may also have to blame her­self — over­con­fi­dent, run­ning a lack­lus­ter cam­paign and heed­ing bad ad­vice, said Syl­vain Cre­pon, a lead­ing ex­pert on the far right.

The re­cent de­par­ture from the party of her very pop­u­lar niece, Mar­ion Marechal-Le Pen — one of two Na­tional Front law­mak­ers in the out­go­ing par­lia­ment — and in­fight­ing among party lead­ers have com­pounded the Front’s woes.

Ms. Le Pen once en­vis­aged dozens of Na­tional Front law­mak­ers mak­ing life mis­er­able for Mr. Macron. While some 120 far-right can­di­dates re­main in the run­ning for the 577 seats in the Na­tional Assem­bly in Sun­day’s sec­ond round, fewer than 10 are ex­pected to win.

“If the Na­tional Front has three or four law­mak­ers, it should con­sider it­self lucky,” said Mr. Cre­pon.

Two big guns in the party were elim­i­nated out­right — cam­paign di­rec­tor Ni­co­las Bay and Jean-Lin La­capelle. Other ma­jor party fig­ures could get the vot­ers’ ax this Sun­day.

A can­di­date her­self, Ms. Le Pen could be­come the lone Na­tional Front voice in a scanty op­po­si­tion, far short of the 15 law­mak­ers needed to form a par­lia­men­tary group, a cru­cial tool to weigh on pol­icy.

Or she, too, could lose the race to rep­re­sent her north­ern bas­tion around Henin-Beau­mont, where she faces a can­di­date from Mr. Macron’s party who has al­lies to pro­vide a big boost in the fi­nal round. Ms. Le Pen has none.

Since Ms. Le Pen took over the Na­tional Front in 2011 from her fa­ther Jean-Marie, she has worked to give it wider ap­peal, clean­ing out signs of racism or anti-Semitism from its ranks and bring­ing new blood into lead­er­ship po­si­tions. With each elec­tion, the party’s scores rose.

Her party gar­nered more votes than any in France in 2014 vot­ing for the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, al­low­ing her to crow that it was the “first party of France.” Now, it’s in a down­ward spi­ral, fur­ther dam­aged by a vot­ing sys­tem that fa­vors main­stream par­ties in elec­tions for the pow­er­ful lower cham­ber of the French par­lia­ment.

Ms. Le Pen’s party came in a strong third place in Sun­day’s first round, gar­ner­ing 15 per­cent of the na­tional vote. But it may win less than 1 per­cent of seats in the sec­ond round. That’s be­cause leg­is­la­tors are elected by dis­trict in­stead of by a sys­tem where seats are al­lo­cated ac­cord­ing to over­all sup­port for a party.

Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe said Tues­day that Mr. Macron would in­tro­duce a “dose” of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, in which the num­ber of law­mak­ers is de­ter­mined by the num­ber of votes cast for a party — some­thing Ms. Le Pen has long de­manded.

The Na­tional Front was also hit by the many vot­ers who stayed home this time. The IP­SOS polling firm es­ti­mated that 57 per­cent of Ms. Le Pen’s vot­ers in the first round of the pres­i­den­tial race failed to cast bal­lots in the first round of the leg­isla­tive vote — par­tic­u­larly work­ers and those with low in­come. Try­ing to mo­bi­lize her vot­ers in a TV cam­paign ad this week, Ms. Le Pen warned, “It is es­sen­tial to re­sist the Macron sys­tem.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

French far-right pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Marine Le Pen, looked un­likely to con­vert her show­ing in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion into a large num­ber of leg­isla­tive seats. Ms. Le Pen blames her party’s down­fall on the record low turnout in Sun­day’s first-round elec­tion and a vot­ing sys­tem that pun­ishes out­siders.

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