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The Danger of Populism in France and Elsewhere
by Michael Curtis
Brignoles is a small town in the department of Var, in south-east France, previously known mostly if at all for its dried prunes. It has now become better known as a result of the result of the surprising political upheaval in a local council election there on October 13, 2013. The candidate of the far-right Front National (FN), a 48-year-old former boxer named Laurent Lopez, in the second round of voting gained 53.9% of the vote, while his opponent, of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), the center-right party led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, received 46.1%. No left-wing candidate was on the ballot.
Though less than half of those eligible to vote in this small town did so, the FN immediately claimed that the electoral success proved it could rally French people and that the French "mainstream parties have been completely shunned and defied by voters." The euphoria seemed understandable; the party has gained support since 2009, when it obtained only 6.34% of the vote in the elections for the European Parliament.
Even more encouraging for the FN was the publication of a French national poll in October 2013 of voting intentions in the elections in May 2014. It showed the FN at the top with 24%, while the UMP got 22%, the Socialist Party led by President François Hollande got 19%, and the Left Front party got 10%. The question now facing France is, will the present success of FN be the forerunner of future dynamism and triumphs in French politics, making difficulties for mainstream political parties, or will FN decline into a minor player?
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