by Karen Szymczyk
December 13 was important for the Middle East in at least two ways. In a move of increasing brinkmanship, a Turkish fishing boat (“seine” vessel) tried playing naval “chicken” with the Russian guard ship Smetlivy in the Aegean Sea, only backing off when the Russian ship fired on it, using small arms, when it got too close. According to the Russians, at no time did the Turks respond to any Russian communications, before, during or after the confrontation.
December 13 also hosted the crucial second round of French elections. Western papers couldn’t help but predict a win by Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party, which topped the results in six of France’s thirteen regions in the first round. Le Pen’s appeals to the French were popular: withdrawing from the European Union, establishing the franc as the country’s currency, strengthening Fortress France in the face of overwhelming MENA (Middle East & North Africa) Muslim immigrants, and forging better links with Putin’s Russia.
Facing the limp Socialists, headed by a Francois Hollande who only saw a spike in popularity to 50% in the wake of the recent Paris attacks, and a Nicolas Sarkozy who’s still considered malodorous by members of his own Republican party, Le Pen’s drawing card was that her rising popularity crossed many traditional socioeconomic voter boundaries. As the LA Times put it, Le Pen had support that “included blue-collar workers and bourgeois surbanites, recent university graduates and retirees.”
To write off Le Pen as nothing more than a lunatic anti-Semite is to miss much of the economic malaise that has plagued France in recent years, compounded by Hollande’s complete fumbling of the Mistral affair and the subsequent cancellation of a lucrative deal with India involving US$20 billion’s worth of Rafale jets. But it’s a convenient label to hang on an increasingly inclusive party leader whose words resonate with ordinary French voters. “It’s been like this for years.. All the big contracts go to the friends of the president. Little businesses like ours don’t get anything,” says a blue-collar worker, again quoted in the LA Times.
Le Pen was campaigning as much against the dominant two parties (“two clans from the same political mafia”) on economic grounds, as well as social, and it was this mix of messages—a clarion call to recreate the greatness of France—that appealed, as it has done throughout the centuries, to the French.
When Le Pen won so many regions in the first round of elections, it seemed certain that she would consolidate and build on it in the second. Then something happened.
There is a tactic pervasive in French politics, where politicians of Party A will withdraw from a region in order to push support to Party B. The whole idea behind this arrangement is to make sure that Party C doesn’t win. This tactic has been used against the National Front in the past. This time around, with six victories under the NF belt, the Socialists decided to play that card again in two regions but, interestingly, Sarkozy’s Republicans didn’t. The New York Times mentioned that “Mr. Sarkozy announced after his party’s second-place showing that its candidates would not join with other parties or withdraw from the race.”
One would think that that would throw the second round race open entirely. On the contrary, the results after the December 13th second round of voting, were stunning. Sputnik News put it most succinctly: “National Front Fails to Gain Support of Any Region in French Elections.”
How could a party that was polling so strongly, that had so much voter support, lose in every region, including the unemployment-heavy northern ones?
One doesn’t have to think very hard to see what a National Front victory would have meant to NATO and the EU, not to mention its actions in Syria. Add to that a possible rapprochement with devil Russia, and the only surprise is that Le Pen was allowed to crow victory after the first round. Someone’s getting sloppy.
What happens now is up to the French people themselves. Are they going to let themselves be cowed, or will they rise up? France has always been a country of glorious rebellion and resistance, against enemies ranging from the monarchy to McDonald’s, but are the French up to it in these modern times? Or is the tsunami of propaganda too overwhelming, the barrage of immigrants too unstoppable, the cohesion of each community too weak, to fight against what must be seen, at the very least, as a very peculiar election outcome.
Only time will tell.