The classic French right, estranged from power for more than a decade and divided by leadership struggles, clearly defeated the extreme right of Marine Le Pen in the first round of regional elections yesterday, according to the first polls. The victory of Los Republicanos (LR) against Le Pen’s National Regrouping (RN) is the great surprise of an electoral day marked by a record abstention.
The result alters the scene of a presidential election in 2022 in which the current president, Emmanuel Macron, would face Le Pen without anyone being invited into the competition. Neither Macron’s nor Le Pen’s parties come out well in the regionals and instead several right-wing leaders emerge who can choose to contest the election. The moderate left also gets a break by remaining the most voted list in the five regions it already governed.
Le Pen’s defeat is resounding. These had to be elections that would confirm the effectiveness of its normalization strategy that, with a more or less focused message and avoiding the fanfare of other ultra-populist leaders, would capture moderate votes. His goal was to show that he was capable of winning more than the dozen towns and small towns where his party now rules. And to exhibit within a year a balance in one region or more to prove that the arrival of RN to power does not mean the end of democracy or chaos in the administration.
The strategy, pending the results of the second round, has not worked. Six years ago, in the last regionals, the National Front – the name of the party before Le Pen renamed it RN – was in first position in the first round in six regionals and was the most voted in France with 27.7 % of votes.
Le Pen’s hope was to match or improve the result, but the opposite has happened. RN leads only one region and throughout the country, according to polls at the close of schools, it has collected around 19% of the votes, a result that – with the caution advised by a regional scrutiny, also weighed down by the very low participation – it can compromise your strategy and your leadership.
The right, under the label of LR or with independent candidates, imposed a minimum of five of the seven regions in which it already governs, including Hauts de France and Auvergne-Rhône-Alps. It is even close to being the most voted in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, where the extreme right had the best chance of winning, and is now a favorite in the second round. Republicans are the most voted force in France and get around 29% of the vote.
The result is brilliant for a party that many saw in the process of liquidation, broken by internal fights, without an ideological direction and with an electorate that Macron and Le Pen longed to share. In third position, after LR and RN, is the Socialist Party (PS), the most voted in the five regions that already ruled. Neither Macron’s La República En Marcha (LREM), nor his centrist allies, lead the scrutiny in any region, reflecting the scarce territorial implementation of a formation founded in 2017 and without weight leaders, except the president. On Sunday 27 will be held the second round of the regional and departmental, which coincide on the same days, and things could change. Now is the time to discuss alliances.
In the regional elections, the lists that have exceeded 10% of votes are classified for the second round, unlike in the presidential ones, where the two most voted candidates are classified. This system implies that there may be three or four lists in the second round. When there are a multitude of finalists, the vote is dispersed and makes it easier for the RN, if it is among those classified, to end up being the most voted.
The solution traditionally consists in the withdrawal of the candidacies that are not from the extreme right to concentrate the vote on the one most likely to beat RN. That is, the union of all, from the left to the traditional and moderate right, in a republican front against Le Pen. The poor performance of the far right, however, upsets the calculations.
With the results of the first round, it is clear, first, that the traditional parties that have dominated France in recent decades resist in the territories: in addition to LR, the PS also defends its quotas of power in the regional ones. Something similar happened in the municipal ones a year ago: LR and the PS, very weakened at the national level, are strong at the local level.
The second lesson of these elections is that the victory of several barons on the right with presidential ambitions – for example, Xavier Bertrand in Hauts de France, Laurent Wauquiez in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes or Valérie Pécresse in the Paris region – represents a challenge. to Macron with a view to the presidential elections next year. All three dream of the Elysee. Macron’s only rival is no longer Le Pen, possibly weakened after the regional elections, but also the same old right, that of Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.
According to the polls, Le Pen will have to fight in the second round of 2022 with the current president, the centrist Emmanuel Macron. In the first round of the presidential elections, Le Pen will be the most voted candidate, but Macron will defeat her in the second round.
Macron’s diagnosis, and Le Pen’s, was that the partisan divisions that had shaped French politics since the post-world war – an alternation between the center-left and the center-right – were no longer valid. The opposition now had to be between a moderate, pro-European and more or less liberal broad centrism, and extremist populism. But if the second round confirms the trends of the first, things may be different. The old politics refuses to disappear. Perhaps the presidential elections of 2022 are no longer just a matter of two.