Anti-EU, Anti-Immigrant French Conservatives Surge in Local Elections
France's far-right National Front party saw a resurgence on Sunday in the first round of local elections, damaging the chances of the ruling Socialist party in the process. The chief center-right UMP party took 47% of the vote; the Socialists gathered 38%, and the FN garnered 5%. The growth of FN was significant; in 2008 it got only 0.9% of the vote.
The salient reason for the dismissal of the Socialist party included near-zero growth and high unemployment. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the FN, cheered "an exceptional vintage for the FN." The FN is well-known for its anti-immigration, anti-EU stance.
The FN even won one mayor’s race; in the former coal-mining town of Henin-Beaumont, Steeve Briois got 50.3% of the vote. The FN is hoping to win 10 to 15 mayoral races after the second round; the most it has ever won is four, in 1997.
Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said, "Some voters expressed their concerns, and even their doubts, by abstaining or through their vote." He urged voters to cast their votes in the second round to block the "advance of the FN." He added, “Where the National Front is in a situation where it could win the second round, all democratic and Republican forces have the responsibility to create the conditions to stop it from doing so." The leader of the UMP party, Jean-Francois Cope, urged FN voters to vote UMP in the second round and predicted his party would score big numbers in the second round.
In Paris, UMP former Sarkozy minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet had an unexpected lead over Anne Hidalgo, the daughter of Spanish immigrants.
Le Pen took over FN in 2011 and has been attempting to have the party shed its image as a racist party, instead focusing on unemployment, costs of living and crime.
She said on Sunday, "We want to become apparent as a big local political force."