Le Pen won’t win, but the Front National will not disappear

Le Pen has utterly reshaped the French political debate, and will undoubtedly play a central role in years to come, writes Jorge Lopez Llorente

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have entered the second round of the 2017 French elections: it is the expected clash, the final decision that must be made after months of uncertainty. The first round results were tight: Macron won this round but only gathered slightly more support than Le Pen—securing 2 per cent more than her at the final tally.

Everything now seems to indicate however that the second round will not be such a close call, instead delivering a clear victory for Macron. This seems logical and I trust the polls, which so far have been fairly accurate. Macron’s additional two per cent of first round voters plus the so-called ‘optimistic’ approach and reform suggestions of his En Marche! platform will not be enough by themselves to tilt the election to his side.

Ironically, Macron will rely on Marine Le Pen to win. Rather than gaining more support because of his own ideas, Macron will surely gain a majority, thanks to voters of other parties now eliminated in the first round who loathe the Front National and will be prepared make a sacrifice to stop Le Pen. Macron will simply absorb other voters in this way, and he knows Le Pen will do all the fighting and scaremongering, hoping he can take advantage with a calm face, as he has been doing. Fillon? Mélenchon? Hamon? They have all been swiped away. Most of their supporters in the first round will now turn to Macron.

This trend has been marked early by the eliminated candidates themselves. Fillon has encouraged his voters to vote for Macron explicitly as a vote against Le Pen. The socialist Benoît Hamon has also endorsed Macron, but reluctantly so, again for the sake of lashing against the Front National’s extremist threat. Le Pen will find it hard to match, limited to her own direct supporters and perhaps small bunches of angry radicals from both extremes of the spectrum who initially backed Fillon or Mélenchon. Whose election is it then?

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Macron himself has acted cleverly, using the system’s rules to his advantage by positioning himself in the centre, claiming to neither the left nor the right, despite coming from the Socialist Party, and acting as an all-embracing negotiator. Some passion must drive people to vote for Le Pen: radical right-wing beliefs, fear, frustration with mainstream politicians. But you could vote for Macron, reluctantly opting for the lesser evil with resignation. Maybe in a one-round election Le Pen could have snatched a direct victory, but the French system has clearly got too many obstacles for her at the moment.

We tend to compare the Brexit vote and the 2017 Dutch elections to these French elections, tracing the rise of alt (read: far) right candidates. Nevertheless, we should start realising that fear works both ways. In the Dutch elections Mark Rutte won, not Le Pen’s extremist peer Geert Wilders, because Dutch voters feared Wilders more than Islam. So if extremist right-wingers are on the rise, so are those who despise them, probably even more so.

The fear that populist politicians like Le Pen manipulate so well in their favour can, in fact, turn against them. Still, it troubles me that fear, division, and a basis of hate against rivals rather than a defence of one’s own ideas have become this election’s modus operandi. These are all Le Pen’s own terms. We can’t ignore that this election has always been Le Pen’s election, whichever way it turns out, because her Front National has set the undeclared deeper rules of the game.

Yes, in the end Macron will surely win this time. The relief will not last though. He will have to face a divided France in which most of the French will be less than delighted with him from day one, to say the least. Le Pen will not just disappear—she will be a burden for the next few years. I am already worried about what might happen in the next election. The Front National will undoubtedly bark and snarl at President Macron at every opportunity, spitting out that he has been propped up by a rotten establishment and perhaps even turning to violence. Macron’s additional support may even backfire in the future. Le Pen’s latest maneuver of pretending to scale down her leading role shows how devious she can be, camouflaging herself in plain sight. It is too soon, but the ammunition is there, and Le Pen must be drooling over it already, ready to pounce.

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The FN will not die anytime soon. Le Pen will lose this battle, but she is set to be the victor in the political war that will shake France in the next few years, because this is all a war of her own creation, on her own terms. Despite percentages or predictions, in conceding her the chance to set up this scenario, all Europeans and the French in particular have already lost, but Le Pen has just begun winning.