Regional Election Poses Crucial Test for French Far Right

A decisive, second round of voting in France’s regional elections on Sunday is being scrutinized as a litmus test of whether the anti-immigration far right is gaining in acceptability before the French presidential election next year. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, has spent a decade trying to cast off the extremist reputation that made the party anathema to many French voters in its previous guise as the National Front. A failure to win control of a region Sunday would mark a stinging setback for the rebranded party.

A record-low turnout of 33% in the first round of voting on June 20 proved particularly damaging for the National Rally and Le Pen’s hopes of securing a regional breakthrough to bolster her 2022 presidential campaign. The party has not previously won a region. Polls had suggested that Le Pen’s party had the wind in its sails, with legitimate ambitions to win control of leadership councils in one or more of France’s 12 mainland regions.

But the apathy last week also infected National Rally voters. Only in one region, in the southeast, did the party finish ahead. Its candidates elsewhere were all relegated into second place or lower, with some openly abandoning all hope of winning in round two.