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Who is Marine Le Pen and what does her defeat in the French election mean for the future?

The right-wing deputy has suffered another defeat in the presidential run off, but the ideas she brought into the election dominated the conversation.

A man rides a bike in front of posters of Marine Le Pen, French far-right National Rally party candidate for the 2022 French presidential election.

It ended up looking like a much more routine victory from incumbent president, Emmanuel Macron, than the polls suggested last week. Some polls showed him and his opponent, Marine Le Pen, being neck-and-neck until the final week of the election, but the eventual result of a 17 percentage point Macron win looks like an easy win. But this result masks a surge in support for the far-right in France. In comparison, Le Pen’s father was trounced 82 percent to 18 percent in 2002. In just twenty years, the right is looking closer than ever to controlling one of Europe’s largest countries.

Le Pen leads the National Rally party and has reached the second round of the French election in the last two elections. She has increased her amount of votes by 8 percentage points in this election, putting her much closer to the presidency compared to her 2017 result.

So what does this mean for France’s future, and how will the topics which shaped the election be potential problems for Macron in his second term?

How Le Pen and the right shaped the arguments of the election

The build-up to the first round of voting at the start of this year was dominated by journalist Eric Zemmour. He pitched his election campaign on racism and sexism surged into an unlikely strong position. His campaign began to unravel once his links with Russian President Vladimir Putin torpedoed his chances. Picking up the pieces was right-wing stalwart Marine Le Pen, who has pivoted to be a more moderate, but no less dangerous, candidate compared to Zemmour.

The Le Pen dynasty has been involved in French presidential elections for the last two decades, winning a large margin of votes in 2017 and now 2022. Macron was ushered in at the 2017 elections as the new stalwart against the right as the traditionally strong Socialist and Républicains fell away. However, his tenure has only seen the right gain more support as the election rhetoric was dominated by these right-wing talking points. Despite the soudns coming from the UN and recent climate summits, climate change had little airtime.

While the main leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon had a better than expected result in the first-round of voting, being only slightly behind Le Pen, having a right-wing challenger in the second round meant the discourse was not just about the cost of living crisis, but controlled by arguments immigration and France’s much vaunted secularism, which has been co-opted by the French right to attack Muslims.

For example, in an interview last year, Macron’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin argued that Macron had been “too naive, too soft” on immigration. Le Pen wanted to fight a campaign on these terms which garner an emotional response for the electorate; it is easier to blame an other than deal with the real issues affecting economic woes like inflation. This is what she got, and profited off it.

Failing to adequately deal with the problems which fuel far-right support don’t make the problem go away, President Joe Biden’s sliding popularity over his inaction is likely to lead to a Republican victory in the midterm elections, with the very real prospect of another run for president from Donald Trump.

At the end of the day, Le Pen did not win the election. While much of Europe let out a collective sigh of relief, there are still many problems France faces for the next five years.

A Macron victory is better than a Le Pen France

Despite the high percentage of votes for Le Pen, including abstentions and spoilt ballots three-quarters of French voters did not support her. Furthermore, Macron’s win is the first time in a generation that the sitting president won the following election. Loss in support was expected in the context of French politics.

Though he has proved a dividing leader, which leaders aren’t, his victory against a right-wing with links to Putin is a positive. This doesn’t mean all can be satisfied, and there are troubling aspects to a Macron France that has drawn the ire of human rights groups.

Macron has vowed to “unite” the French people behind him, which remains to be seen if he can do this. If his record of the last five years is anything to go by, he has a large job to prevent the French right from gaining more support.


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