French and European media reports in early December show that France's National Front (F.N.) leader Jean-Marie Le Pen could receive 15 percent of votes in France's presidential elections in the spring of 2007. In 2002, when Le Pen surprisingly proved that he was able to survive past the first round and challenged incumbent President Jacques Chirac, pre-electoral surveys credited Le Pen with around 12 percent of the votes. Analysts estimate that many French citizens prefer to hide their preference for the far right, hence pre-electoral surveys usually indicate a lower-than-actual strength of the National Front. As a consequence, French and global political commentators expect Le Pen to perform strongly again next April, even though this time the gap between the survey's statistics and real vote intentions may be smaller.
Le Pen's New Strategy: Nation, Assimilation, and the Immigration Issue
Confronted with two popular rivals -- the Union for a Popular Movement's (U.M.P.) new star Nicolas Sarkozy (a rather pro-Atlanticist, pro-U.S. Gaullist who pushes for a stricter immigration policy) and the new Socialist leader Ségolène Royal -- Le Pen is calculating that his best chances to succeed reside in his capability to represent the "real" modern right-wing by mixing conservative and nationalist sentiments with economic dynamism and a non-elitist approach to voters.
If he survives past the first round again, he will probably damage Sarkozy's moderate right more than Royal's left-wing coalition. Therefore, he would then challenge the Socialists and not the Gaullists as he did in 2002. For this reason, Le Pen is trying to reposition himself in order to be best equipped for a possible match against Royal in the second and more decisive round.
Hence, Le Pen is trying to alter his political-cultural identity in order to represent a modern right-wing party. One of the last political leaflets produced by the F.N. shows a young woman of North African descent who accuses the traditional parties (the P.S. and the U.M.P. in particular) of ruining the French republic, the nation, its values and its assimilation capabilities toward immigrants.
Le Pen knows that if he really wants to win the elections, he will need to get the support of at least some of the many millions of French citizens who are of African and Asian descent.
He will also need to make concessions to non-ethnic French while at the same time insisting on a new immigration policy aimed at limiting new entries, coupled by attempt to relaunch a straight assimilation policy designed to create "new French" from the myriad of alien cultural identities that mark France's present social landscape.
While Le Pen's ability to convince large sectors of French society of his non-racist, non-xenophobic vision remains to be tested, it is certain that Royal and Sarkozy will have to cope with the F.N.'s astute electoral strategy. Moreover, Sarkozy is probably the player to suffer most from Le Pen's tactical shifts.
To be sure, Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal remain the most likely winners of the presidential election's first round on April 22, 2007. However, Jean-Marie Le Pen's chances to cause a new surprise after his 2002 stunning success are now higher than originally thought.
The two months before the polls will be decisive. Le Pen's attempts to win the sympathy of those still undecided will likely cause him to use all of his tactical ability -- both through the media and in a more direct relationship with potential voters.
Although the establishment continues to scorn the National Front and its national-populist culture, the Socialists may be secretly happy that a strong Le Pen could prove capable of absorbing Sarkozy's political space on the right.
Report Drafted By:
Dr. Federico Bordonaro