The French must remain united and prevent the republican model from crumbling as far-right leaders capitalise on fear.
For the first time, the extreme-right National Front (FN) party has claimed victory in a national election in France. The first round of the regional elections has left Marine Le Pen’s movement as the leading political force in French politics, ahead of the traditional socialist and republican parties.
Winning the ballots in six out of 14 regions, the chance for the xenophobic movement to seize control of at least two of them – Nord Pas de Calais in the north and Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur in the south – has been increased by Nicolas Sarkozy’s irresponsible decision to refuse any alliance with President Francois Hollande’s socialist party against Le Pen, in the hope of maximising his own chances for the presidential election in 2017.
This result is of historical magnitude. The National Front had recorded the highest score during the European elections last year but the timeliness of the party’s anti-Brussels rhetoric could well be credited for its capacity to cash in on widespread discontent in France.
Polarisation of French politics
On Sunday, Le Pen capitalised on the French population’s feeling of insecurity after the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, with the results of the regional elections confirming the polarisation of French politics.
If the power of regions in French politics remains limited as opposed to the German Landers, Le Pen’s likely victory in Lille – as well as that of her niece in Marseilles – will provide the xenophobic movement with a tribune to spread its populistic and narrow-minded political platform.
The particularity of the French electoral system is one of the key reasons for the success of the extremist movement. Despite its slow growth over the past 30 years, the National Front has never been able to elect more than two parliamentary members in a winner-takes-all system (apart from a brief stint in 1986-88) because of the unwillingness of other parties to be associated with Le Pen’s racist political platform.
As a result, the French population has rarely been able to assess the ineptitude of the National Front leaders or to realise the real dangers that the extreme-right party represents.
While other minority parties ... have been regularly forced to ally with other forces, soften its political positions and accept compromises ... the National Front embraced the role of outcast, which allowed it to grow outside of the spotlight.
While other minority parties, such as the Green Party, have been regularly forced to ally with other forces, to soften its political positions and to accept compromises to ensure a parliamentary presence essential for its financial survival, the National Front embraced the role of outcast, which allowed it to grow outside the spotlight.
Shady loans from Russian banks
The financial sacrifice resulting from the absence of members of parliament and electoral victories – political parties in France receive public funds on the basis of the number of elected members – was swiftly alleviated when the party reportedly received loans from Russian banks earlier this year.
This opportunistic support from Russia raises serious questions about the movement’s independence and its vassalage to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the few cases when the National Front has been able to win a local election, its track record is appalling. In Hayange, the extreme-right mayor was found to have falsified its electoral budget. In Beziers, the National Front mayor Robert Menard has encouraged the creation of private militias and the religious listings to target minorities. In each of the Southern cities of Toulon, Vitrolles, Orange and Marignane, once held by the National Front, corruption, nepotism and mismanagement have been endemic.
After a few years of National Front administration, each city ended up in severe debt and unable to balance budgets despite severe cuts in spending in culture and social welfare.
On every occasion, the National Front has proved to be inept in any power position. Unfortunately, the very electoral system that prevented the parliamentary representation of the National Front might end up ushering a tsunami of incompetent and corrupt politicians in the coming years.
Scapegoating a community
No doubt, the November 13 attacks in Paris have played a part in the National Front victory. The terrorist actions from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have been an opportunity for Le Pen to target Muslim minorities and scapegoat a community that is mostly peaceful and respectful of the French Republican values of Freedom, Equality and Solidarity. This is in no way a coincidence.
ISIL’s very objective is to polarise French society and surf on the dismantlement of its civic structure to recruit simple-minded individuals who feel rejected by the xenophobic discourse of the National Front and the cowardice of French leaders to stand against it.
While France is ailing and still mourns the attacks against its multicultural society, the National Front’s victory on Sunday, in the same vein as ISIL terrorist attacks, is another step towards communitarianism and the defeat of a secular and progressive model inherited from the Enlightenment and the philosophical triumph of reason.
Those who continue to vote for Marine Le Pen simply fail to realise the obvious contradiction of their act. Those who prefer favouring short-term electoral interests, such as Nicolas Sarkozy, are the favourite allies of anti-republican forces.
Remi Piet is assistant professor of public policy, diplomacy and international political economy at Qatar University.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.