What were the results?
In Sunday’s parliamentary elections Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party won 89 seats.
The biggest group in the parliament is president Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance Ensemble with 245 seats (44 seats short of an outright majority), followed by the leftist alliance Nupes with 131 and then Le Pen’s party.
But since Ensemble and Nupes are coalitions of several parties, Rassemblement National can claim to be the largest single party (not in partnership) in the parliament.
— Le Parisien (@le_Parisien) June 20, 2022
So is there really a far-right surge in France?
Not only was the RN win big, it was also unexpected, since pollsters had predicted a third position for the party, but with a much smaller number of seats (most polls predicted between 20 and 40 seats).
The party’s 89 seats also represent a massive increase from the eight seats that it held previously.
But while the increase in seats is clearly significant, it may not represent a ‘voter surge’.
In total, 17.3 percent of the population voted RN on Sunday, compared to eight percent in the second round of the 2017 elections. First round voting also showed a similar pattern – 13.2 percent in 2017 and 18.6 percent in 2022.
But while the party’s vote share doubled, their number of seats increased tenfold – with a major effect being the collapse of the ‘front républicain‘ (see below).
The vote totals are also well below those seen in presidential elections, albeit that different voting systems make direct comparison difficult.
In the 2017 presidential election Marine Le Pen finished second with 33 percent of the vote in the second round. In the April 2022 parliamentary election she again finished second to Emmanuel Macron, this time with 41 percent of the vote.
So what does the seat increase mean?
The biggest immediate impact of RN’s success is on the party’s finances, since political parties receive funding from the State based on their representation in parliament. Le Pen’s party has been in major financial difficulties for some years, unable to pay back huge loans secured from Russian and Hungarian banks to finance to 2017 and 2022 presidential campaigns, so the extra cash will undoubtedly be welcome.
Politically, there will also be an impact.
Le Pen has already said that she will demand the chair of the powerful finance commission, which traditionally goes to the largest opposition party, although she bases her claim on being the largest single party of opposition, since Nupes (on 131 seats) is an alliance of four parties.
Commanding a large block of seats in parliament will undoubtedly make the far-right party more of a force in national politics than previously, although the party is extremely unlikely to be approached by Macron’s team in their search for allies to build a working majority over the next five years.
What is the Front républicain?
One of the most striking things about Sunday’s result was the collapse in many areas of the ‘republican front’ against the far right.
In all elections apart from European ones, France votes in two rounds: candidates with the highest scores in the first round go through to round two, so French voters go to the polls for a second time to decide between the second round candidates.
The tradition of the Front républicain dictates that if a far-right candidate makes it through to the second round, voters from across the political spectrum vote for whichever candidate is standing against the far-right, even if they are not a supporter of that candidate.
The ‘hold your nose and vote’ method benefited Macron in both the 2017 and 2022 presidential elections, when many voters who were not his supporters cast their votes for him in the second round in order to avoid the possibility of a President Le Pen. This also benefited Jacques Chirac in 2022 when he found himself in the second round against Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie.
This time, though, it appears to have collapsed in many areas, with defeated candidates from both Ensemble and Nupes declining to call for voters to back their opponents against Le Pen.
This lack of a ‘blocking’ vote is a major contributor to the way RN was able to convert vote share into seats in parliament – converting 17 percent of the vote into 89 seats, compared to converting eight percent of the vote into eight seats in 2017.