In April 2002 a dramatic event in French, and indeed international, politics occurred. For the first time ever an extreme right-wing candidate (Jean-Marie Le Pen of the National Front) got through to the second round of the French Presidential elections, winning over 20% of the vote. Many reasons have been put forward to explain this situation.
The National Front in France (and indeed its equivalent parties in other countries) is more powerful than it once was; supporters believe that French jobs should be reserved for French citizens and that all jobless immigrants should be deported. They are hostile towards the dominant political parties, immigrants, integration with Europe, homosexuals, intellectuals, and reproductive choice for women - especially abortion. National Front supports the reinstatement of capital punishment, and retains as an ideal the 'nuclear family,' consisting of a father (the breadwinner), a mother (the homemaker) and their children.
The National Front in France had, previously to 2002, consistently won about 15% of the vote in national elections, and 15-20% of the vote in local elections. At the present time no French MPs are currently affiliated with the National Front, although there is one National Front mayor - in the town of Orange in south-east France.
On 21st April 2002 France held a presidential election. Nearly 35% of the electorate didn't vote, and of those who did vote, the majority voted for minor candidates, like Noel Mamere (Green) or Jean-Marie Le Pen (The National Front). It seemed that the French electorate wanted to protest against the two big candidates - Lionel Jospin (socialist) and Jacques Chirac (republican) - who had almost the same solutions to the most important issues (such as crime1), and had mounted lacklustre campaigns which didn't appear to address the important issues.
At the close of the polls in the first round of voting, Jospin had won 16.07% of the votes, Chirac 19.67%, and Le Pen 17.02% of the votes2. Some supporters of Le Pen were working class, as always, but this time he had support from the middle classes too. Thus, Le Pen and Chirac progressed to fight it out in the second round of voting. Many people in France, and worldwide, were afraid because a man like Le Pen was so close to being in power, and there was a massive mobilisation by students and the media against Le Pen. During the second round Chirac won 82.21% of the votes, and so conclusively won the election.
The National Front
The 'Front National' was founded on October 5, 1972, and Jean-Marie Le Pen has been president of the party from the beginning. Its slogan is 'France first', and as already stated, their policies can be regarded as extreme. German Burgaz, the vice-president of the National Front has said3 that 'Civilization is in peril. The white race is at risk of being flooded by the third-world and would not one defend oneself?', rhetorically summing up the concerns of the National Front.
In the past, the supporters of the National Front were, in general, young, working class, Catholic males. The support for the National Front used to be stronger in towns and cities with big immigrant populations, such as Paris and the cities in the southeast of France4. However, in the presidential election of 2002, the support for this party was a lot wider, at least during the first round.
The views of the National Front on immigration are one of the main reasons why Le Pen won a lot of votes in the first round of the presidential election. Many French people are worried about the number of immigrants in their country, especially those from northern Africa. A lot of people in France believe that these immigrants are bad for the country, because they are thought to commit crimes and steal the jobs that should be for the French citizens, and the National Front has very strict policies towards the immigrants. There are people in France who believe that the policies of the National Front towards the Euro and the European Union are 'ridiculous', but they think that the National Front is on the right track on the subject of immigrants and crime. One National Front voter said that the people who voted for Le Pen are not racist, but that they have just had enough of crime and they believe that the powers that be are not interested in the problems of the normal French people.
Although most people think of the National Front as just an extreme, racist party, it does have policies on crime and punishment, and on immigrants and foreigners that a lot of French people agree with. Many French citizens weren't happy with the way their politicians treated the problems such as crime, and the perceived problems with immigrants, so they voted for a man with strong views towards these problems.
However, the majority of the French obviously didn't want Le Pen as president because they didn't elect him during the second round. They appeared to be afraid of the more radical ideas of Le Pen, such as his support of capital punishment and his views towards people such as intellectuals and homosexuals. Therefore the French either seem to have voted for Le Pen as a protest against Chirac and Jospin, or the votes of many of those who were against Le Pen were split between numerous candidates in the first round of elections. In the end the French chose not to have a president as extreme as Le Pen, preferring to have a president closer to the centre politically.