On Sunday the French voted in their Presidential election. In the first round, the Socialist candidate Hollande beat incumbent President Sarkozy.
Round 2 happens the first week of May. But the telling thing, to me is that Marine Le Pen, who re-vamped and modernized the far right Front National, garnered close to %20 of the vote. She and her right wing party could be the next kingmakers.
While Marine Le Pen didn't qualify for the second round, she scored a significant victory on Sunday. She won 18.01 percent of votes and proved herself to be not only the uncontested third voice of the first round, but also the face of a renewed National Front. Marine celebrated at her election headquarters giving a rousing 'victory' speech, burst into La Marseillaise then danced impromptu with supporters to a Lionel Ritchie song. Le Pen has already demonstrated herself as a more formidable and cannier leader of the movement than her father, Jean-Marie. His crude antisemitism, racism, and second world war revisionism made him the object of mockery as well as fear. People do not laugh at Marine Le Pen as they did at her father.
Her timing has been impeccable with the two big contemporary issues fueling the rise of illiberal populism everywhere in Europe except Germany and the Iberian peninsula – the eurozone crisis and Muslim immigration.
Islamophobia, many say, is the new antisemitism for the current generation of rebels, while austerity decided by Europe's leaders as the answer to runaway debt, soaring deficits, and a failing Euro supplies fertile ground for the populist campaigners. Her father, who referred to the Holocaust as a detail in history, led the FN for many years and was dismissed by many as old school, a Vichyist gave the reigns to his youngest daughter, Marine. Marine a lawyer, twice divorced and blond speaks on issues not only appealing to the far right and disenfranchised but - the danger zone - the fed-up liberal intellectuals.
Winning 22.12 percent in Alsace, 25.91 percent in Gard, where she came out on top, and 24.38 percent of votes in Corsica, where she beat François Hollande by a slim margin, Le Pen reinforced the political foothold inherited from her father. For Le Pen, the votes validate her strategy of rehabilitating the National Front, and returning to traditional refrains of immigration, Islam and security late in the campaign
In essence her strong showing destins her party as the kingmaker. For now she refuses to endorse
either candidate until May 1st, workers day. It also depends on how the FN members choose to vote in a close election and whether those who voted for LePen would turn to Sarkozy, a 'failure' or Hollande the 'milquetoast'. But inside the FN it's a toss-up and vote splitting will color the election. The blond might have the last laugh.