For months we've been hearing that the Front National is France's "leading party," largely on the basis of one poll and a by-election victory in Brignoles. Now Marine Le Pen is trying to lower expectations. She expects her party to be on the lists in only 500 of some 36,000 French communes in the March 23-30 municipal elections.
Is this a tactical lowering of expectations in order to trumpet later a "victory" by beating the forecast? Or does it represent a real structural weakness of the party? Le Monde points out that even allowing for considerable progress since the party reached its nadir in 2008, the FN will still be present on only 16.6% of the lists in communes of more than 3,500 people. The party is plagued, still, despite ample recruitment of younger cadres in recent years, by a shortage of qualified candidates and organizational weaknesses at every level. So it is a bit premature, perhaps, to envision a rerun of 2002 in the next presidential election.
One does have to worry, however, about the state of the two major parties. Hollande has done his best to run the Socialists into the ground, first by an absence of strong leadership and now by betraying his promise to maintain "exemplary behavior" if elected. Meanwhile, the UMP rank-and-file seem to be banking on a return of Sarkozy, yet Sarkozy, according to recent polling, remains unpopular with a substantial segment of the population (though less unpopular by far than Hollande and only slightly ahead of Marine Le Pen).