The concerted wave of mass street protests and condemnation that greeted her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, when he made it to the final round of the presidential election 15 years ago, has not been of the same order this time.
The anti-Le Pen demonstrations have taken longer to materialise and they have been smaller and more fragmented. Politicians have not instantly and easily united against Marine Le Pen; instead, there has been hesitation and infighting.
Even on May Day, when “No to Le Pen” marches took place in major French cities, trade unions that had firmly united against Marine Le Pen’s father in 2002 were divided. Some felt the independent centrist frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron, was too economically liberal to support, placing him in the same pariah bracket as the anti-immigration Marine Le Pen.
Commentators on the left complained of a mood of lethargy and resignation, saying Marine Le Pen’s party no longer provoked massive anti-racism demonstrations and was simply being accepted as a permanent feature of the French political landscape.
Macron is the favourite to secure the presidency on 7 May. But what is at stake for him is not just winning the race. If he is to govern successfully, he needs a landslide.
Marine Le Pen is currently polling at about 40%, a historic high compared with her father’s final score of less than 18% in 2002. She has, for the first time in her party’s 45-year history, forged a presidential election alliance with a smaller political party, headed by the nationalist “Gaullist” Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who will be her prime minister if she wins.
She has appeared to soften her stance on leaving the euro, which was seen as a sticking point with some voters. Marine Le Pen believes she can increase her score this week and the Front National is seeking to make gains in the parliamentary elections that follow in June.
The presidential election has so far revealed a France that is more divided than ever. In the first round, almost half of voters chose candidates that opposed Macron’s pro-business line, from the far right to the hard left. Macron took about 16% of the working-class vote, what would be one of the lowest scores of any French president. He has since addressed factory workers and rural communities in an attempt to redress the balance.
In recent days, Macron has visited sites including a Holocaust memorial and Oradour-sur-Glane, which saw the worst Nazi massacre of civilians on French soil, in order to galvanise French republican opposition to Marine Le Pen and highlight what he calls the risks of a far-right party of “hatred”.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was cut off politically by his daughter after comments belittling the Holocaust two years ago, held a small May Day rally in central Paris and hit out at her rival for the presidency. “Emmanuel Macron is doing a tour of graveyards,” he said scornfully. “It’s a bad sign for him.”