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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Le Pen success: What does it mean for France?
Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is through to the second round of presidential elections in France.
Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who was neck and neck with the incumbent President Jacques Chirac in opinion polls ahead of the election, has announced his retirement from political life.
Voter apathy was widespread among the French electorate with a record low turnout.
Thousands of people demonstrated against Le Pen and his anti-immigration policies in French cities last night.
What motivated the French to bring about such a surprising result? What does the elimination of the left in the second round mean for France?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I was very sad when I saw on television the opposition between J.Chirac and J.M. LePen. Although I can't vote yet because I'm only 16, today we had a big manifestation against Le Pen at lycee and in our city. I think it is crazy to vote for him and (nearly) all the country is trying to convince everybody not to vote for Le Pen, because they say he would be a dictator! So I am very glad !
The reason for a large number of voters choosing a far right nominee can be attributed to a whole host of reasons from voter dissatisfaction with parties pandering for the middle ground and therefore resembling each other, to a lack of clarity on european social integration coupled with what seems like a democratic deficit on european decision making. A large amount of the vote can clearly be attributed to a protest vote also.
Immigration must be discriminate if it is to aid the economy and the community. Don't get me wrong - I don't believe that the assimilation of other cultures will do France wrong? After all, which culture is not an amalgamation of the beliefs and systems of other cultures? There is no reason why the French should carry on allowing a fear of change to be the pivoting force of an extreme party.
I first want to state that I am not an advocate of far rights politics, but I have to say that all of the rubbish about it being a blow to democracy is crazy. If anything this displays perfectly democracy at work. It is the will of the people being displayed! He won't win the election anyway, so it is academic, but maybe it is a wake-up call to the French government and also other European governments that these issues that the far-right parties are talking about need to be dealt with. Solutions are not the easiest thing to come up with, but when it is just being swept under the rug, people are going to look to someone who may actually deal with this. The crime rate related to immigrants is definitely something that needs to be dealt with. In particular repeat criminals. The other politicians need to give a better alternative to the right wing parties.
I find it interesting that anti-immigration is such a big issue in Europe. This is a continent which, not so long ago in historical terms, set out to conquer the new world and replace hundreds of indigenous cultures with their own. What right do Europeans now have to say that immigrants are threatening their culture? The hypocrisy is appalling.
The rise of the right wing across Europe is a symptom of a larger problem; that of alienation. Ignorant people always look for scapegoats. What's needed is less apathy, more left wing balance, and a reversal of the corporate globalisation that's eating away at the heart of democracy
John W, NZ/UK
Although I'm sure I don't agree with the majority of Le Pen's policies he does have a point about immigration, crime and the creeping control by the EU. It should be thought about more here.
I can't vote in France but I would have been on the left. But I am friends with a lot of people who voted for Le Pen. They were not duped into protest votes, but have been Le Pen backers for years. Why? Because they grew up during Mitterrand years and were disgusted with the Socialist governments and their scandals. They are traditionalists who believe in the Catholic church and France. They don't hate their neighbours but don't want them to have free reign to step into their home of France and tell them how to run their lives. They loved the French Franc. They believe in a Europe of independent nations. They are not racist but they don't want a homogenous nation, bland and mixed to look like every other nation. They are among the 49 percent who voted against the Maastricht Treaty. They understand one of the basic rights of citizenship is to vote. They are ordinary people who will be voting again for Le Pen. And if the communists were to have won the election, they would resign themselves to the reality of the democracy and start work on the next round of elections, not be in the streets complaining and demanding the rest of the world complain too.
This is the democratic process in action. To stifle this debate, and its controversy, would stifle democracy itself. If the electoral process does not allow candidates to be represented, when they go ┐against the grain┐, then we could end-up with a dictatorship. Long live democracy. Warts and all.
Dominic Owen-Williams, Canada
I believe that this demonstration of xenophobia combined with and voter apathy are the direct result of globalisation and a corporate culture that sees human beings as demographics to be exploited. What's worse, it's self-perpetuating: consumer culture demands that we care only about ourselves and the things we can buy that we don't need. Then we resort to mindless entertainment to shield us from the issues we should be taking an interest in. Meanwhile, greed and selfishness persuade us that 'foreigners' are out to take our stuff and while we're hiding ourselves and our stuff away, we start to lose control of the very process that is meant to protect us, the democratic system.
I think that the 'success' of Le Pen is due largely to the fact that no mainstream French party realises how important national identity and self-determination is to the people of their country. I don't honestly believe that many of the people who voted for Le Pen are racist or that they hold other unacceptable views. All they wanted to do was vent their anger at an establishment which has abolished their currency and with it their own self-determination. When a country's political elite decide to take mass support for granted and don't take the interests of their people into account they are bound to be punished at the ballot box eventually. Chirac and Jospin are both losers in this election - the travesty is that protest votes have given Le Pen a legitimacy which someone with such grotesque views does not deserve.
Erling Nylund, Norway
It is very sad that a man like Le Pen received the support that he did. He is a very deluded and dangerous man. However, such support is somewhat inevitable given the way politics in Europe has progressed (or regressed) over recent years. When will the politicians of Europe realise that the grand European project to create a politically-correct superstate will inevitable result in a back-lash by people whose opposition to such an idea is constantly ignored and shunned in the name of a 'greater good'?
So a large proportion of the population decide that they don't need to vote, or can't be bothered. When a large number of people who do vote and choose someone the non-voters don't like, the non-voters take to the streets and in some cases riot. These people, and the complacent, corrupt parties they support, are the ones who really threaten democracy. Not Le Pen.
Robert Murphy, France
Why is it that the intellectual elite/social do-gooders don't believe in democracy whenever the common masses vote in a way does not fit their opinion? This goes not only for France, but for countries all over the world. The Left have to realise that their time has gone. Not that the far-right is necessarily the answer, but if that is what the majority of the French people desire in a democratic election, then so be it. That is what democracy is all about. If M. Le Pen does not work out then the people can have their say in five years' time.
In a perverse way this may actually be good for French politics - at least it will galvanise the leaders of the main parties to act rather than wax lyrical. Similar action may be required in the UK as we plod towards another election where neither main party offers an acceptable alternative.
The thought of someone with warped ideas like M Le Pen coming to power is certainly very worrying and frightening. However, of all the people out protesting on the streets, how many actually went out and used their vote on Sunday? You can't complain if you don't do your duty.
I think what the message really is from the election is that so many people feel disenfranchised by the political system. Corruption breeds apathy and people don't vote. They have expressed their opinion by all the protests against Le Pen - the French establishment should be asking themselves why people wouldn't express their opinion in the ballot box
This result will I hope have one positive result: to lead the French people to discuss openly the issues surrounding immigration and racism, which are often considered politically incorrect. I study French and spent last year living the country. I encountered, along with many who valued the ethnic minorities there, others who showed great ignorance and made racist and stereotypical comments without even being aware of how very insulting they were being.
We are not free of this ourselves in Britain. I was born and raised in England and consider myself to be English, and am proud of that fact, although my parents emigrated to this country. I am sick and tired of hearing myself and my identity being attacked by ignorant people who claim that everything that is wrong in Europe is caused by immigration. Fact: immigration will NOT mean the end of European culture. Immigrants and their children have many valuable things to contribute to this culture. In fact many come from countries (such as India) which could boast the existence of great civilisations in many cases thousands of years before Europe. Fact: the ethic of the immigrant is and always has been to stand for hard work and family values (the latter something for which M Le Pen rather ironically claims to be the champion). We work hard, pay taxes, and contribute to the prosperity of this country.
The people of France have spoken.
Perhaps in this Eurocentric era, the Nationals of France feel they may be losing their identity. The anti-Nationalist protests that resulted in street battles with police and the smashing of shop windows will only work in the favour of the Nationalists, as law and order is a strong point on their mandate.
Nathalie Cornish, Scotland (French citizen)
I think it's great, its put the cat amongst the pigeons, about time someone took on the PC parties and addressed real issues affecting everyone - illegal immigration and crime. We should all be more concerned with the major problems we have at home instead of other countries, and the drain on resources that immigrants cause. Especially the ones from the Balkans - where the wars are over - and Afghanistan where the Taleban have now gone. They should go home and help rebuild their countries.
The French constitution must be put into question. It's too easy for the voters not to take the first round of the presidential election seriously and misuse it as a way to show childish revolt tendencies. Further than that, the wide power the president has tends to promote a political system based on personalities and not on parties. It's time for the 6th republic.
This whole thing describes the foolishness of people, especially when it comes to politics. The big lie is that democracy is the best form of government and the freedom that comes with it. This means a freedom to do what people want, which more often than not is not what they need. Democracy means that the majority gets what they want, but the majority very often is wrong! A far better form of government is where one leader makes decisions for the good of the people, which is where Le Pen would come in. Of course being a corrupt human being as he is this would not work either. The best thing to do is not vote for anybody and get on with your life ignoring politics altogether - it is stupidity.
Peter Nelson, USA
I was not stunned by his success because it is a lucid example of what some European countries are going through in the post-cold war era. Conservatism, xenophobia and a rising tide of nationalism are now challenges facing the their society.
Throughout Europe, politicians are driving through greater integration without regard to the opinions of those that elected them. It is sad that greater numbers of people in many countries are supporting extreme nationalistic parties but not unexpected. The warning of a protest vote of this size requires attention. Mainstream politics needs to address this with acceptable policies that reflect public opinion, without pandering to the politics of hate.
If this is how the people of France wish to vote (those that turned up anyway), then we have to respect that. They are a democratic country, where each person is given a vote. Apathy is no excuse. The people have spoken, and it is for the rest of Europe to take note. It is highly unlikely that Le Pen will get any further, but if he does, then once again, it will be done through the people of France voting for him. We must respect this decision...disagree with it possibly, but respect it, definitely.
Raoul E. UK (French)
There are actual communists in parliament in Sweden and other EU nations and they often command a similar percentage of the vote. They were just as bad as Hitler in their day. Why isn't the rest of Europe making as big a stink about that?!
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Jospin has certainly things to be blamed for, but at least he proved his loyalty by resigning. Many politicians, from left to right, should follow this path and let the French get the new political generation they deserve. Now that Chirac is here to stay, and though I won't be happy to vote for him, I urge him to engage changes in our institutions. Now France definitely needs Europe's support and pressure for a quick democratic relief.
Reading some of M Le Pen's ideas for how to 'improve' France, I cannot believe that 17% of those who voted can go along with him. However, it is not these people that I have a problem with. It is a fundamental right to have a say in how your country is run, and nobody should be stopped from doing so. It is the apathetic people (I cannot even call them citizens, for they are not acting like citizens) who have caused these monstrous ideas to become a threat. All that has to be hoped now is that the people of France who did not turn up to vote wake up, smell the danger, and secure the future of their country before anything too drastic happens.
Simon Constable, UK
It's nice to see the left screw up so nicely. This is why we crazy Americans have the electoral system we do. It keeps things from moving too fast, and keeps radicals out of power by making sure that the two main candidates have a broad base of support, not just tiny parties.
Chris Colvin, US: No American can lecture anyone about 'keeping out radicals'. George W Bush is a far-right Christian fundamentalist, and your political system is so rotten by corruption that you have a choice between two main candidates funded by the same corporate sponsors. You are talking as if Le Pen is already in power. The fact he's caused such an upset by getting through to the second round should serve as a wake up call to those who think voting doesn't matter, and hopefully help break down the apathy that seems to be a feature of modern politics.
Gilles Cardo, France
Le Pen advanced to the second round because the French are sick of a left that talks all the time but does nothing. And a system that is too inclusive and blind to problems. The rising violence, among other aspects has a very important value here. Still, the main reason why Le Pen is in the second round is not because people feel he is the answer to their problems, but rather that his solution is better than Jospin's. The left is suffering from the heritage of Mitterrand and Jospin acting like clowns, with an extremely populist policy. Bottom line, the reality is that Chirac will make a ravage in the second round and the left parties better reform themselves as soon as possible because it looks like the legislative elections have already been won by the right wing!
This should not be a surprise to anyone who has travelled in the south of France within the last fifteen years. I spent a summer in Le Pen territory and though many people thought him unsuitable for national office, nearly all of them shared the same paranoid fear of immigrants. Statistics showing violent crime spiking with the arrival of immigrants from North Africa do nothing to help the situation. The French have long resented North African immigrants and I think they have finally had enough. Voter apathy combined with naivetÚ (thinking Le Pen could not win) and outrage on the far right made this result absolutely inevitable.
Robert, London, UK
I am no supporter of fascism. I don't believe that most of the people who voted for Le Pen are either. However if no mainstream candidate offers the electorate what they want, then the electorate will vote for the candidate that does, however repugnant their heritage. Remember that Hitler was elected in a democratic vote in 1933 and that must have been due to the lack of appeal of the alternatives. If democratic politicians spend more time listening to pressure groups and think tanks and less to ordinary voters then this will be an increasing trend. I understand that in this case the main issue was rising crime. The traditional state approach here is a mixture of social policies and rehabilitation. However what the public want is more prisons and longer sentences for offenders. If neither of the parties offered this then it is not too surprising that the party that did offer this met with electoral success. This is democracy in action. Mainstream parties in France seem to have forgotten this at their peril.
More people should wake up to fact that European culture will eventually die as a result of mass immigration from poor countries. Europe needs more politicians like Le Pen; not less.
Before everyone panics - the National Front has scored this kind of percentage in many polls in France for two decades. The problem now is not that a fringe candidate is winning lots more votes, but that the mainstream candidates are losing them. However, if he wins the presidency the WEU must have no hesitation in imposing the same sanctions as we imposed on Austria. It would be a great shame to see the French, who played such a leading role in setting up the EU, no longer being worthy of membership.
First of all, France is a dualist system. When president and majority are from the same party, it is a presidential system. When such is not the case, it is a parliamentary system. Even if Le Pen won on 5 May, he would end up cohabiting with whatever parliamentary majority is elected in June, and that won't be National Front.
Secondly, a comparison of the vote between 1995 and 2002 shows that as a share of those entitled to vote, Le Pen did not increase much at all (from 11.8% to 12.2%). But Chirac went down (from 16.3% to 14.2%) and Jospin collapsed (from 18.3% to 11.6%). He is responsible for a very poor campaign and has rightfully left the political scene.
Finally, what next? Chirac will win the second round with a huge majority but with an even lower turnout. The left will have an enormous job to fight and regroup if it is to have a significant impact. And its first task will be to choose a new leader.
This actually is not surprising. As the standards of living fall, due to various factors, the most convenient scapegoats are immigrants, foreign governments, and politicians. This has been the pattern in both the developed and the developing countries. Only in an adversity does a man reveal his real face. Unfortunately modern men, even in democracies, have failed by choosing to be exclusive rather than inclusive.
At first, I was shocked by the result. But after a few minutes, I realised that this is democracy at work. If this is what the French people want (at least 17 % of them, that is five million people), then let them have it. If by some cruel twist Mr. Le Pen were to win, they (and we in Europe) will see what it REALLY means to have a totalitarian regime installed, since this is what, in effect, the Front National advocates, as do all extreme-right wing parties in Europe. Good luck!
The fact is that nearly half of those who voted did not opt for Chirac, Jospin or Le Pen. Moreover, a third of the electorate thought the elections were so pointless, boring and irrelevant that they stayed at home sun-bathing. If mainstream politicians are so worried about the fact that the fascists garnered around a sixth of the French vote, then perhaps they should address what they are doing wrong.
Ian Sykes, UK
One of the factors behind the emergence of the far right in France must be the worsening of the economic climate. It's a sad fact of human nature that when times are bad, with job losses and poverty increasing, people need something to blame. Le Pen, if he ever got into power, would not improve the situation in France. How could a man whose opinions and popularity are based on hate and ignorance be able to oversee the running of a country of over 100 million people? How could such a man cope with all the other non-immigration issues facing the leader of any country, such as managing economic policy, the transportation infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and relations with Europe and the rest of the world? No, the same people who voted for Le Pen would find that they have the same problems as before and that many other parts of their lives would worsen. These same people would then turn around and start looking for another group to blame. What about the non-French Europeans living in France next, or those who are more successful and better off than they?
The worst thing is that no-one actually wanted this to happen. People were too sure about the results of the first tour to take it seriously. Many of my friends who voted for Besancenot or Taubira now regret: they didn't vote to elect but only to express their preference, which is not at all the same thing. It also seems to me that many Le Pen voters either do not really understand who he is - especially since his campaign during the last two weeks was very silent and moderate - or simply wanted to protest against the Chirac and Jospin pair. It is impossible that 20% of the French share Le Pen's racist ideas.
As a French ex-pat living in the Netherlands, I am quite shocked that 20% of my co-citizens voted for Le Pen and made him run for the second round. Yet, he has been elected democratically. I certainly would not consider going back to live in that country should a fascist party be in power. It is appalling that in more and more countries the extreme-right is gaining points. It seems that we have not learned from the past. Hopefully the French who did not bother to vote on the first round will move their butts and prevent a catastrophe.
Mike Bell, England
This result demonstrates how European politics is evolving. We will see more and more extreme/radical politicians -- most countries in Europe have a past of racism and discrimination. Le Pen is the tip of the iceberg that is coming -- I can only see things getting worse.
Voter apathy, and the disillusionment of the socialist left in France has brought about this result, rather than any significant swing to the nationalist right..
However it may provide the apathetic voter, and political classes with the well earned kick in the pants needed to wake us all up.
As odious as you may find Le Pen, his success is a democratic one. To demonstrate and rail against the number of votes that he has achieved is to refute the right of people to express their opinions, purely because you do not like them. People on this site often criticise the lack of representation of their views. They must accept that this may be true for people with other political preferences and this vote is a manifestation of that dissatisfaction. You might justify your hostility to this democratic outcome as a fight against fascism, but it strikes me that there is more that a whiff of fascism in those who would seek to repudiate this result. Are you a democrat or not?
It's good to see the French people waking up at last...hopefully the Front National will do well at the parliamentary elections too. And hopefully the British will start to wake up as well, and find our own Jean Marie Le Pen.
Fran P, France
Given the arrogance and corruption of the French political elite, Le Pen's success is a healthy development, however repugnant his policies.
Paul Tomlinson, UK
I'm sure before 5 May there will be much soul-searching amongst the French, many of whom feel their country is being portrayed abroad as fascist. I have many French friends who are dismayed that Le Pen should get five million votes. People are traditionally said to vote with their hearts during the first round of French elections and with their wallets in the second. Let's hope for the sake of democracy all those who stayed away from the first round polls, because of the very good weather and holidays, will rally around to ensure Chirac becomes president. He is the lesser of two evils.
For all the talk of this result being a shock and a disappointment, I think we should note that a party like Le Pen's has not been successful so far in the post-war era. As such, we don't have a clue as to what Le Pen would in practice do if elected. I'm inclined to give him a chance to find out what will happen. If he proves to be a disaster for France, then that could act as a warning to the rest of the world as to what to avoid. There's an old Chinese proverb, I really do hope that we will come to live in interesting times.
The real winner is Jacques Chirac because a lot of French socialists and communists will vote for him in the second round.
Mr Jospin chose to ignore the racist attacks on France's Muslim and Jewish communities. Now he is paying the price!
Maybe this will finally teach the left wing in France to form stronger unions. A plethora of radical leftwing candidates sapped their strength. Left wing divisions created this mess and they have only themselves to blame.
The figures are an aberration, and mean absolutely nothing: France is still the tolerant, broadly socialist country it was.
Le Pen's problem is that his diagnosis of France's problem is right, but his cure is totally wrong. Multiculturalism in France (or any where else in Europe) doesn't work. Why should it? European nations have "static" cultures. They have beliefs and traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Multiculturalism works in my country because we never had a homogenous society; instead we have a "dynamic" culture. We are and always have been a nation of immigrants.
France (and Europe) needs to be unapologetic that mass immigration is not working for them. They need to strengthen the institutions that protect and invigorate their ancient cultures.
Shame, shame and shame. The next two weeks are important for the whole country as a whole. If Le Pen is crushed, then the population will have woken up a bit and salvaged what little pride could be saved.
If he gets a decent score then there is something very rotten in the French society.
As an ex-pat Brit living in France I can't vote here. And I wouldn't want to.
Presidential elections in France breed apathy.
Nothing changes. Except the gratuitous fiddling between right and left to find common ground whereby both can be seen to have won.
It's not power-sharing, it's ego-sharing.
Mark, London, UK
The election success of LePen in the first round runs in absolute contradiction to the central aim of the European Union, that is of integration.
To have a nationalist candidate as the leading contender for the second round provides a contentious challenge to the whole EU culture that runs without borders.
The French have agreed to adopt the euro, but now they need to defeat candidates and proposals that hinder their nation's ability to behave as a member of multilateral union, and as a multicultural society.
My heart is heavy as I write this. This is a sad day for France with 17% of the electoral vote for Le Pen, only second to Chirac. France prides itself in its liberty. The motto here is liberty, fraternity and equality and now this...We cannot allow fascism to rise again.
It has brought nothing but war and destruction up to now. We have to take our noses away from TV soaps and start reacting to our loss of democracy and human values.
The first round is a shock to us all. I do not agree with those who say this is a bad thing for democracy. It just highlights French dissatisfaction with other political players.
And of course many forget the publicity France did to attract these workers in the 1950s and 60s! Le Pen is also the man who when asked about the Holocaust can say nothing more than that it is a piece of history.
Yes France should be worried and even shamed...it is not only bad for France but for Europe. And of course Le Pen if elected, would be a great concern to the EU!
This has certainly spiced up an otherwise incredibly boring presidential race. I couldn't believe it when I heard the result and after a few hours have just started to recover from the shock. This will certainly shake French voters from their incredible apathy.
I wouldn't be all that surprised to see violence and unrest in the streets. The Front National are very good at stirring that kind of thing up.
Unfortunately for many French voters, they are going to have the unpleasant task of voting for a discredited Chirac no matter how repugnant they find him, just to keep Le Pen from power. Now I'm glad I don't have the vote here.
This should be a wake-up call to Tony Blair whose centre-right government is abusing the trust of the electorate with cynical and dishonest politics.
When the majority of decent, hard-working moderate people are disillusioned by the methods and practices of manipulative politicians, a door opens to extremists who are ready and waiting to exploit the situation.
Voters want a return to honest politics, where they are not conned by spin - "a rise in a tax on income not income tax" - and not insulted by politicians who believe that the voters are stupid, ill-informed and sheep-like in the polling booth.
Hopefully a result so repugnant to the great majority of people in France will be the end of voter apathy. I hope that large section of population which didn't vote all feel guilt and accountability in allowing such a man to enter the final round.
Jobless. France has rarely been able to control this, even though there have been fewer scandals growing out of the post-Mitterrand "management" (most of the scandals having germinated during the Mitterrand era).
Chirac will be returned easily and the ruling class will not have learned a thing.
This shouldn't be that surprising. Far right opinions are gaining ground all over Europe. Joerg Haider gained a substantial amount of votes in Austria back in 2000, racist crimes in Germany increased by 50% between 1999 and 2000, Belgium's Vlaams Blok became the third largest party in Flanders in 1999 whilst Nick Griffin of the BNP is gaining popularity more and more here in the UK. Why should France be any different?
A major reason for Le Pen's success has been the inadequacy of the government to deal with crime. To combat crime effectively a lot of politically correct accepted truths will need to be rendered unworkable. Le Pen understands this. The others do not.
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