PARIS – In 2017, after the leader of the far right Marine Le Pen and her allies won only a handful of seats in parliamentary elections, she blamed France’s two-round voting system for her party’s exclusion from parliament despite receiving more than a million votes. vote in favor.
“We’re eight years old,” she said bitterly, referring to the seats her party won in Parliament, the more powerful lower house of Parliament. “We’re worth 80 in my opinion”.
Fast forward to parliamentary elections last week. The voting system hasn’t changed, but with 89 newly elected lawmakers – an all-time record for her party, now known as the National Rally – Mrs. Le Pen is beaming now.
On Wednesday, she hug her new colleaguekissed the left and right cheeks, before leading them into the Houses of Parliament and posing for a group photo.
Fueled by anger against Mr Macron and triggered by the collapse of the “republican front” that mainstream parties and voters traditionally oppose to the far right, the results have come as an immediate shock. even in the ranks of the National Rally.
“I would be lying if I told you I’m not surprised,” said Philippe Olivier, Le Pen’s brother-in-law and special adviser, who described the 89 seats the party secured in the 577-seat National Assembly. like “a tidal wave.”
The National Rally is currently the second-largest party in the National Assembly after Mr. Macron’s party lost his absolute majority and is currently struggling to muster enough legislators to pass his bills, potentially forcing him to work with a restored opposition.
In an interview with Agence France-Presse news agency on Saturday, Mr Macron said he had asked the Prime Minister to Elisabeth Borne consulted parliamentary groups to form a “new action government” to be named early next month.
He added that the new government could include representatives from all over the political scene, with the exception of far-left France Unbowed and Ms Le Pen’s party, which he said he did not consider “the party of the government.” “.
The National Rally does not have enough lawmakers to pass bills of its own and will struggle to find allies in Parliament. But thanks to increased public funding based on election results, winning the seat is a financial boon for the heavily indebted party.
Crucially, for the first time since the 1980s, it had enough seats to form a parliamentary group – the only way to gain leverage in the lower house.
National Rally lawmakers can now vote of no confidence, ask the Constituent Assembly to review legislation, set up special investigative committees, fill congressional top jobs and spend a lot of time new speech and amendment powers to promote and promote government and slow or block the legislative process.
“During the previous term, there was a two-day debate on immigration,” recalls Olivier. “We had five minutes talking!”
Ms Le Pen said her party would ask for positions traditionally allocated to opposition groups, including the deputy speaker of the National Assembly and the head of the powerful finance committee, the budget watchdog. government.
Analysts say this established presence in Parliament could further strengthen the right wing in the French political scene, providing an invaluable launch pad for future elections.
“I think Marine Le Pen understands that this is really the ultimate test,” Jean-Yves Camusco-director of the Radical Political Observatory at the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, a progressive think tank.
Many voters, even those who might agree with her proposal, still question her party’s competence, Camus noted. Now, he said, she will try to show that, like other far-right populist parties in Europe, her party can exploit the institutional machine from within, rather than fight it from the outside. .
Mr Olivier said his party would try to push through legislation on his favorite topics, including reducing value-added taxes on energy and essential goods, sharply reducing immigration and increasing powers. of the police. But he said his party would also be “a constructive opposition,” not a “troublemaker”.
“If Macron proposes a bill on nuclear power, we will vote for it,” he said. “If a bill is on the right track, we will study it.”
Ms. Le Pen participated in a long-term and deliberate strategy arrive “peel off“Her party and expanding her constituency. Since her defeat to Mr. Macron in 2017, she has tried to raise her profile and rebrand her party away from its extreme roots.
Many new far-right legislators have entered politics during this time of change and learned the ropes of becoming city councilors or congressional aides who strive for rigor and severance. great with the excesses of some longtime party lieutenants, who are often associated with antisemitism and xenophobia.
“A little fresh blood and some new faces won’t hurt,” says Bryan Masson, who has secured a seat in the Alpes-Maritimes area of southern France. BFM TV last Monday. At the age of 25, he is one of the youngest members of Parliament, after a decade working for the National Rally, first as a leader of the local youth branch and then as a commissioner. regional council.
Ms Le Pen has also dismissed ideas that alienate mainstream voters, such as the proposal to leave the eurozone, which helped her win 41.5% of the vote in the presidential election in November. 4, an increase of 8 points compared to 2017.
That is not enough to defeat Mr. Macron, who has called for a “republican front”, a long-standing strategy in which mainstream voters put political differences aside in favor of anyone. except for the far right in the polls.
That front has weakened in recent yearshowever, and last week, it appeared to be falling apart, as French politics became increasingly polarized around three strong opposition blocs: Mr Macron’s broad centre, pro-globalisation, the far right and the far right. party description of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, France Unbowed.
Last weekend, the National Rally won half of its matches over candidates from a coalition of parties backing Mr Macron, compared with less than a tenth in previous legislative elections.
Many in Mr Macron’s party equate the left to Mr. Mélenchon’s leftist coalition, say both are extremecaused half of the president’s supporters to abstain in the births leading to a National Protest against the Left, according to a recent poll.
“These legislative elections look a lot like midterm elections, despite being held just two months after Mr. Macron’s re-election victory,” he said.
But the National Rally’s new presence in Congress is a double-edged sword, analysts say.
Ms. Le Pen must manage a delicate balancing act that leads to “almost complete normalization while remaining in violation”, Mr. Camus said, as the party participates fully in the political system that has long been perceived as inefficient and corrupt.
He added: “What drives voters to the National Election is that they are an anti-establishment party.
Now, they are the heart of the establishment.