Three failed tilts at top office would be enough to end the careers of many politicians. But not, it seems, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is already preparing for legislative elections and possibly even another crack at the presidency in five years.
Rather than showing any indication of bowing out of politics after conceding defeat in Sunday’s election to President Emmanuel Macron, the National Rally (RN) chief immediately staked her claim to be leader of the future opposition.
With more than 41 percent of the vote, “the ideas we represent have reached new heights,” Le Pen told a crowd of supporters at an election-night party, vowing a “great battle for the legislative elections” in June.
But maintaining momentum will be an uphill struggle for RN, which has bled members and officials for want of electoral breakthroughs and lacks dense local networks.
Based around a personal brand rather than a party, “presidential elections are traditionally favourable for the RN,” said Sylvain Crepon, a political scientist specialising in the far right at the University of Tours.The party was already “looking to the legislative elections,” he said, targeting “an RN group in the National Assembly that will be strong enough to oppose Emmanuel Macron’s policies.”
“We will be the ones to protect the French people during the five years ahead,” agreed party president Jordan Bardella, the RN’s 26-year-old rising star and one of its few figures other than Le Pen with nationwide recognition.
That position will be most fiercely contested by hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has called on France’s fragmented political left to back him in June and deny Macron a majority.
“After all, the Le Pen brand embodies nationalism in France the best,” he said, adding this was thanks both to Marine and her father Jean-Marie, who founded the party as the National Front (FN).
But the far more localised parliamentary polls are a tougher nut to crack.
“When you have no significant allies to carry the (parliamentary) run-offs, it’s very complicated,” Crepon said.
With just six MPs in the lower chamber at present, the surge from this year’s unprecedented presidential result might carry the RN into the low double digits, he suggested.
But he said it is “totally impossible for them to form a majority in the National Assembly.”
Voters from the traditional right Republicans and hard left, who backed Le Pen mainly to try and eliminate Macron, will likely return to their political homes for the legislative vote.