PARIS – Nearly 600 candidates from the far-right and long-disregarded Front National (FN) party are slated to grace the municipal elections stage during these last two weekends of March—the largest turnout ever facilitated by the radical group.
But it turns out they may not all be on the ballot by choice.
On March 6, the regional newspaper Paris Normandie reported that multiple candidates on the FN’s list for the Seine-Maritime region had been “tricked by the party.” In fact, 22 out of the 35 have claimed they were not put on the candidate list by choice.
A handful of others complained at Harfleur and Lillebonne, and the prefect of Saone-et-Loire then announced that he received mail from several people in his area declaring they were put on the list without their consent.
The FN has responded unsurprisingly by blaming the Parti Socialiste (PS), though it remains unclear what the latter party could have done to cause such a problem. This not good news for a party that has lofty hopes for 2014, with the discontent of the Left high throughout many regions of France. The FN’s populist reputation and conservative stances on the economy and immigration could be golden for many voters who believe the Socialists’ handling of economic and unemployment troubles has been flawed—though the FN’s plans to withdraw from the euro zone and move away from free-market policies might not garner as much support.
Speculation aside, the 600 figure is a monumental number for Marine Le Pen’s party, that only six years ago nearly had the wind knocked out of it during the plague of the financial crisis. In the midst of a popularity upswing but with little to spend, the party presented only 119 candidates in the 2008 elections, giving it little chance for political gain.
This time around, the FN is focusing on large numbers of political newbies as the faces of the party, likely an attempt to appeal to an electorate disillusioned with political elites. The Left in particular has denounced many among the group as racist and xenophobic.
But FN leaders, such as deputy party head Florine Philippot, appear frequently on TV and radio to criticize the old guard of the Left and the conservatives, positioning their party as the populist alternative—not exactly a novel idea, but a valuable strategy for citizens wanting fresh and outside-of-the-box policy views, as extreme as they may be.
The 600 include all party candidates in towns and cities with more than 1,000 inhabitants. Granted, there are nearly 10,000 of these municipals in France, so the Front National‘s reach still includes only a small percentage of the population.
But the outcome of the upcoming elections will likely reveal a larger trend in France of far right resurgence—and despite these recent candidate gaffes, the FN, with its recent sharp rise in popularity, is going to be at the forefront of those victories.