Could Trump’s win boost Le Pen’s chances in France?

France’s far-right leader is likely to reach second round of presidential run-off, but the race could be tougher than Trump’s.

Supporters paste a poster of Marine Le Pen, France''s National Front leader, on a wall before a political rally for local elections in Frejus
Le Pen is not yet the favourite to win the presidency in the wake of Donald Trump's election victory [Reuters]

Nobody is rushing to make political predictions now. But with the French presidential election less than six months away, shockwaves from Donald Trump’s victory are already striking Paris.

Inevitably, Marine Le Pen is being touted as the main benefactor. Like Trump, she’s a populist nationalist, and a far-right political outsider. Few people now doubt she will reach the second round presidential run-off.

Whether she can win the thing is another matter. I will preface what comes next with the usual caveats about the electoral unpredictability of our time.

But the French electoral system does not favour Le Pen in the same way that the Electoral College favoured Trump.

For two reasons: First, the French president is elected by popular vote. Second, France has more than two credible parties and these have a long tradition of setting aside their differences to block Le Pen from winning.

This happened in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen lost to Jacques Chirac. He was crushed 82-18 percent by a “Republican Front”. You would not expect Marine Le Pen to poll as low as that in 2017. But it is a big leap to 50 percent from there.

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The real beneficiary of Trump’s victory could be Nicolas Sarkozy. His political comeback is sputtering. He’s well behind former prime minister Alain Juppé in the primary race for the Republican Party nomination. But Juppe is the establishment pick, a safe pair of hands.

After Trump, that looks anything but a selling point. Sarkozy is seen as a maverick with the political edge to veer strongly to the right and engage with Le Pen on her own turf. He did it in 2012 and will now be emboldened to push that tactic even further.

That could energise the party base to pick Sarkozy over Juppé. They’re fearful of Marine Le Pen and may now question whether Juppé has the muscle to take her on and appeal to angry voters.

And angry they most certainly are. A prominent former minister said on Wednesday that 11 million French people finish every month with less than $15 in their bank account. That precariousness will drive the election.

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So the clearest lesson of all to take from Trump is that the mainstream candidates need to listen, and fast. If not, they could be heading for the same fate as Hillary.

Essayist Ivan Rioufol wrote on Wednesday that to hear one presidential hopeful propose post-Trump that a “digital economy policy” might be the solution to the current crisis is to “measure the blindness of France’s centrist politicians”.

Marine Le Pen isn’t the favourite to win the Elysee in the wake of Donald Trump. But the French presidential race has been energised since Tuesday.

It’s looking increasingly certain it will be fought over hard right approaches to immigration and security, and that Le Pen will be an actor on the stage until the very final moments of the race.

Source: Al Jazeera