PARIS (AP) — French far-right leader Marine Le Pen gathered her party’s troops on Monday, not to mourn her loss a day earlier in the French presidential election but to plot out how to orchestrate a victory in June’s parliamentary vote and capture a majority of seats in the National Assembly.
Centrist President Emmanuel Macron beat her 58.5% to 41.5% to win reelection Sunday but Le Pen produced her highest-ever level of support in her three attempts to become France’s leader. That gave the 53-year-old nationalist firebrand momentum as she charged into what is called the “third round” of voting, hoping to turn the tables on Macron’s majority in parliament.
Le Pen called a national bureau meeting of her far-right National Rally party on Monday.
Le Pen’s high support Sunday laid bare a European Union nation that is fractured between those she refers to as the “France of the forgotten” — the vulnerable working class that has been hard hit by rising inflation and the fallout from sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine — and what she calls the “elitists” of Macron’s staunchly pro-EU voters.
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Whether Le Pen can break through the ceiling of voter fear that has blocked her party in the past is central to capturing enough seats in parliament.
Still, the fear factor played a large role in her presidential loss.
Le Pen’s program, which would crack down severely on immigrants and diminish the role of the EU and NATO in France, sent many voters into the arms of Macron. That was not due to their support for the 44-year-old president but to their desire to block his populist opponent. Le Pen also questioned why France is sending arms to Ukraine.
A revamped France under Le Pen — with less Europe — also pushed some voters aside. Her goal was to create a “Europe of Nations,” replacing the current system with a patriotic version that would have returned some powers to EU countries, whose sovereignty she and other populist leaders feel has been diminished.
Italian right-wing leader Matteo Salvini, a close Le Pen ally, pledged to continue their common project toward this vision.
“Onward, together, for a Europe founded on work, family, security, rights and freedom,” he said in a tweet late Sunday.
Many voters already expect that Le Pen will gain more seats in parliament, the question is only how much.
“The gap (between Len Pen’s and Macron’s parties) is closing, and the National Rally party is going up,” said French music teacher Valérie Jacquet, 56.
She said that shows the French are worried about their purchasing power — Le Pen’s main campaign theme — and security.
“But I think that Mrs. Le Pen’s platform is too extreme. She pushes people apart,” Jacquet said.
The National Assembly currently has 577 seats, with Macron and his allies controlling 313 of them. Le Pen’s party has only 8 seats now but would like to upset Macron’s majority with a broader far-right movement to hobble his ability to get his agenda passed.
But France’s voting system stands a bit in the way of a far-right conquest in parliament.
The legislative vote comes in two rounds on June 12 and June 19. Candidates who win a majority in the first round are elected. If no one does — a common occurrence in France’s fractured political landscape — those who get at least 12.5% of the vote in a race go into a runoff on June 19.
If Le Pen’s party had enough members to form a group in parliament, it would get more precious speaking time and clout. Had she become president, she would have switched to a largely proportional system that would allow her party to muscle its way into relevancy.
But Sunday’s presidential defeat is still breeding tomorrow’s hope for far-right militants.
“The movement we created, we’re at the start of the beginning,” said Jordan Bardella, who held the party’s presidency while Le Pen campaigned.
“In reality, everything is about to start,” he told BFMTV outside party headquarters.
Alex Turnbull in Paris and Colleen Barry in Milan contributed.