The town of L’Ile-sur-La-Surg is known for its cobbled streets and open market as a pleasant resort town located between the sources of two rivers in the south-east of France. But ahead of this month’s local elections, the debate in this small town and in other cities across France has focused on the aftermath of last year’s terrorist attack, when a Chechen refugee beheaded a teacher at a school in Paris. Another case that returned to the daily conversation was the attack a few weeks after the incident from Paris, when a Tunisian immigrant shot at people who were going to pray at a church.
Across France questions about the place of Islam in French society, and tensions over immigration began to occupy a large place in the minds of many and pushed the electorate to the right.
In response, Emanuel Macron’s central government tended towards more conservative policies, raiding mosques and other Muslim organizations in which they claimed to have advocated Islamist separatism, the term Macron uses to describe what the government describes as a movement seeking to uphold religious laws over state laws.
But the movement of voters to the right strengthens Marin Le Pen, the leader of the National Assembly party opposed to immigration. Le Pen says a series of terrorist attacks in recent years have happened because of what she calls a “soft immigration policy,” which she said has allowed radical currents of Islam to take root in France and incite violence – a link that Macron’s government does not accept.
A recent survey showed that 71% of French people oppose the entry of new immigrants into the country, compared to 64% in 2018. The proportion of respondents to the survey who say that accepting immigrants increases the risk of terrorist attacks has risen to 64%, compared with 53%, according to the survey.
“We need more security and less immigration,” said Bruno Dockers, 62, who sold pottery and urns at an open market in L’Il-sur-la-Surge one afternoon recently. As millions of French people voted Sunday in local elections across the country, Dockers said he intends to choose Thierry Mariani, from Le Pen’s party. “He says out loud what others just think in his heart,” Dockers said.
Mariani led in the first round of elections on Sunday, gaining about 35.7% of the vote in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, a province in southeastern France that lies between the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps.
The institutionalized Conservative Party won a total of 29.3% of the vote in France, followed by the Le Pen National Assembly with about 19.1%, and the number of white ballots in the election reached a record rate. The Socialist Party and the Green Party won 16.5% and 13.2% of the vote, respectively, according to initial estimates. President Macron’s party came in fifth, with about 10.9 percent of the vote.
Le Pen is trying to position its party as the flag bearer of conservative politics, by recruiting candidates who have a reputation in the political establishment and focusing the social discourse on civic issues – such as security, immigration and radical Islam – that divide Macron supporters. In an e-mail to her supporters from last month, she addressed “all the sincere conservatives” and called on them to unite behind her attempt to challenge Macron in next year’s French presidential election.
This approach is part of Le Pen’s efforts to convince voters that she and other leaders in the National Assembly party have turned the page from the party’s antisemitic past and are willing to govern. Mariani, 62, was a veteran of the French Republican Party and under President Nicolas Sarkozy served as minister, before Penn asked him to run for president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.
A Mariani victory would put Le Pen’s party at the forefront of local government for the first time ever. It will also prove that it is capable of overcoming the “Republican front,” a decades-old tactic in which establishment parties unite to support a single candidate in order to defeat far-right candidates. Macron thus won in 2017 after the Republicans and the Socialist Party – longtime rivals – supported him both.
The Republican Party and the Socialist Party questioned the desire to unite behind Macron when he faces La Pen in the spring of 2022. A Harris Institute poll of 1,295 people conducted between June 4 and 7 showed her Pen won 47% of the vote in a second round vote against Macron, who received 53% From the voices. This is a much smaller gap than Macron’s 66% victory in 2017.
“I gave Macron a chance, but I will not make the same mistake twice. Next year I will vote forMarin Le Pen“Said Marie-Claude Surda, a 66-year-old retiree from Marseille.
In local races, Macron tried to mend the cracks in the “Republican front.” His party backed a Republican nominee, Renault Moselia, instead of fielding its own candidate to face Mariani in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
Mariani sought to turn Macron’s support into a political burden, describing Musselia as the president’s puppet and claiming he would take a soft hand on crime. Mariani said he had no choice but to leave the Republican Party and stay true to himself.
“Today they are constantly betraying their beliefs in order to get closer to Macron,” Mariani said of his previous party. La Penn, he said, “the most obvious plan regarding everything that matters: security, immigration, the justice system. And she will have the courage to carry it out.” Moselia said an alliance with Macron was the only way to win the National Assembly, adding: “These are historic moments and we need to unite for them.”
In the run-up to the second round, which is set to take place next Sunday, a poll by the Ipsos Institute conducted among 1,000 voters between June 3 and 7 showed that Mariani is pushing Moselia with or without the support of the Socialists and Greens.
Mariani is a familiar face in the town. He grew up in a nearby town where he was mayor for a decade And a half and represented the region at the National Assembly until 2017, when he lost his seat.
As a representative of the Republican Party, Mariani was a vocal supporter of a more rigorous immigration policy. He proposed an amendment to the French constitution that would allow authorities to revoke French citizenship from convicted criminals. The offer failed. Mariani also stood out for his support of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula and for his frequent visits to Syria, where he met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In 2019, Le Pen recruited him to run on behalf of the National Assembly in the European Parliament elections, and he won a seat there.
A victory in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur could give politicians from other institutions the courage to join Le Pen, said Christian Montgare, who recently left the Republican Party and is running on behalf of Mariani in lower-level local elections. Such a victory would also help La Pen to advance her party’s shift from a legacy rooted in a rhetoric of xenophobia and art to a more accepted direction. She removed her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who once described the Nazi gas chambers as an “individual” from World War II history, rebranded the party and changed its name from the name “National Front” she had under her father.
“The National Assembly has nothing and a half to do with the National Front. It is currently a party like all parties,” Montgar said.