France Election: Rise of the Far-Right?
4/23/2012 10:17:55 AM -
The centre-left Francoise Hollande of the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste) won the first round of the election yesterday with 28.6% beating Nicolas Sarkozy of the Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) who took 27.1%. In third place was Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front (Front National), who beat all expectations by garnering 18.1% of the vote. The highest ever for the anti-immigration party. The election goes into a run-off in two weeks time between Hollande and Sarkozy. With Hollande sure to win far-left votes, Sarkozy has to shift even more to the right to win Le Pen's votes to stand a chance.
It's no surprise that Hollande led, the surprise is the strong performance of Marine Le Pen and her FN. Taking over from her father as the leader of the party in 2011, Marine worked to revise the image of the party as a racist party, to an anti-establishment party. Although the party is still strongly anti-immigration, tough on law enforcement and sceptic of the EU, political commentators say she was able to win votes of people other than traditional far-right voters. She positioned her party as a party for those tired with the Socialist Party and the UMP and who wanted a real change.
Taking a continental view of the whole thing the far-right has been on the rise in Europe. Parties such as the True Finns of Finland, Sweden's Democrats and The Freedom Party of Austria have made significant electoral gains in recent elections. The UK has also seen the rise in fascist groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) that has organised street protests and clashed with other groups. These anti-immigration, ultra-nationalist, xenophobic and Eurosceptic parties have found support in a new generation of voters. The parties may have different ideals but they all seem to be Islamophobic.
So what accounts for this? Well history has taught us that hate thrives in times of economic hardship. With many several European countries experiencing economic decline, fiscal crisis and high unemployment; the far-right has been able to target the EU and immigrants as the cause. Also with the decline of antisemitism, Islamophobia has become a new phenomenon. Far-right parties generally believe that there is an attempt to islamise Europe and have been able to play on such fears to electoral success.
Although several people in Europe are worried about the consequences the rise of these parties would have, some traditional parties have tried to benefit from this new bloc of voters. For example Angela Merkel claimed that multiculturalism had failed in Germany. This seemed to me as an attempt at getting a few xenophobic votes. Even worse is the theatrics of Sarkozy. His widely condemned deportation of the Roma (Gypsies), his campaign against the hijab (Islamic headscarf) and his call for a debate on 'what it means to be French' were thinly-veiled attempts to win far-right votes. The fact that he was still rejected by far-right voters is a source of concern to immigrants and French of North African origin. It means the far-right is determined to have the real deal.
Jerome Wematu Kuseh