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France Election Results Will Play Into Three Major issues


It's been called a political earthquake. And no, this is not about Donald Trump. Last weekend in France's regional elections, the far right, anti-immigration National Front party took the lead in the first round of voting. The National Front is led by the controversial Marine Le Pen, who's been accused of anti-Muslim rhetoric. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded the party and was known for his xenophobic views. Joining us from Paris is Nicole Bacharan. She is a political scientist, and she's been watching the results. So welcome to the program.


WERTHEIMER: Were the results of last weekend's voting a surprise for you?

BACHARAN: They were a shock, like, an emotional shock. But unfortunately, they aren't a surprise. I mean, the polls were heading into that direction. And it has been, you know, many years actually that the National Front is growing and spreading. So everybody knew it was about to happen, and still it felt like a big shock.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think that last month's terror attacks in Paris might have sort of pushed it over the top, influenced the popularity of the party?

BACHARAN: Definitely. I mean, you know, it's quite comparable to Donald Trump in this respect. It seems that anything that happens helps the National Front. And, you know, that party has been portraying Muslims, as a whole, as a problem, immigrants as a threat. And obviously, the attacks in Paris have played into that.

WERTHEIMER: So the influx of refugees is a growing concern, and that also took a bit of a leap.

BACHARAN: Absolutely. Although, you know, realistically, the influx of refugees is very little in France. I mean, France has promised to accept about 24,000 over two years. I mean, it's nothing compared to Germany, nothing in comparison to the population of France overall, but the fear is much bigger than the real facts.

WERTHEIMER: How have the opposition parties reacted?

BACHARAN: I would say there are, like, three major issues. One of them is the really bad employment situation. I mean, we have a very high number of unemployed people. It's over 10 percent. And obviously, people are having a very difficult time. The second question is immigration with, you know, all the concerns about people who cannot be integrated or might be dangerous or might have a secret threatening agenda. And then we have a political class, left and right, that has been totally unable to deliver anything improving the economy situation. So the National Front plays into all of this. People are really not happy.

WERTHEIMER: Would you anticipate that the second round of voting could in any way be a correction for the first round? Would you imagine that people would say, oh, my goodness, we better get out there and vote?

BACHARAN: A lot of people have been scared by the results of the first round. So a lot of people who were not registered to vote took the step to be able to vote in the second round. And I will suspect that people who didn't vote in the first round and are going to do it - everything they can to vote in the second round, will be opposed to the National Front. I guess the National Front has more or less gotten all the votes they are ever going to get this year.

WERTHEIMER: So do you think that what is going on now is going to have an effect on 2017, which is the year of the presidential election in France?

BACHARAN: The 2017 presidential election starts actually tonight. I mean, the campaign starts tonight. And all bets are off. And it's going to be a really hard struggle with very high stakes for everyone.

WERTHEIMER: Political scientist Nicole Bacharan speaking to us from Paris. Thank you so very much for joining us.

BACHARAN: Thanks to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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