OPINION

Protest vote

… The anti-racist mobilization that preceded France’s parliamentary elections succeeded in clipping the wings of anti-immigrant, far-rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen – or at least defeat his claim to growing influence. Indeed, from the stunning 15 percent garnered at the 1997 parliamentary elections, the National Front rose to 17 and 18 percent at the first and second rounds of the recent presidential elections, before falling to a more familiar level, 11 percent, on Sunday. Comforting as this development may be for France, the swing in the electoral power of the rightist extremist party within 50 days highlights that its share of the vote at the presidential elections was a coincidental event rather than a conscious rightist turn. This conclusion – which makes more sense than portraying President Jacques Chirac as a guardian of democracy – does not wipe out the Le Pen phenomenon but allows us to look at it in the right perspective. The question is not whether Le Pen received 17 percent in April. Rather, it’s how and why the National Front, and not some far-left party, has come to represent the expression of the protest vote in the political system of a democratic state… The fact that Le Pen mustered 17 percent confirms the consolidation of his party as a lever for shaking the country’s political establishment. To announce that the peril is over, as some notable French commentators have claimed, encouraged by Le Pen’s plunge on Sunday, will be to turn a blind eye to the core of the problem…