In one month, right-wing populism faces its next big test in France

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Le Pen is expected to lose. But her supporters are committed, and much of France is undecided.

French far-right leader and candidate for the presidential election Marine Le Pen touches a cow as she visits a farm in Cambes, central France, Saturday March 4, 2017. CREDIT: Pascal Pavani, Pool via AP

The French elections are fast approaching — and with them comes the threat of right-wing populist France, led by Front National leader Marine Le Pen.

Le Pen — an anti-Muslim presidential candidate who has vowed to close all immigration to France and called for a withdrawal from the EU (cleverly dubbed ‘Frexit’ by some) — is polling well and expected to make the runoff vote on May 7. (In French presidential races, the first round of voting on April 23 is followed by a runoff featuring the top two entrants.)

For decades, Le Pen’s party wallowed on the political fringes; with her predecessor Jean-Marie Le Pen (also her father) making the final round of voting only once, in 2002. But the French populace’s concerns over immigration and security — combined with a rebranding effort that included putting her father out to pasture — has seen Le Pen rally voters.

Europe’s extreme right is losing elections but still reshaping politics

At first, Le Pen’s main challenger was Francois Fillon of the mainstream Republican Party, but corruption allegations hindered his campaign, and new revelations about his financial ties to the Russian government may now sink it entirely. Le Pen herself received a controversial loan from a Russian bank in 2014. But she is open about her ambitions to build relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as his ally in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad.

With Fillon sinking in the polls, Le Pen’s strongest adversary is centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, a former minister in current President Francois Hollande’s government. Macron is now the favorite to win the Presidential election, according to pollsters.

But before the liberal democratic order sighs of relief, it must be noted how fragile Macron’s hold over the lead is at the moment. There is still a large bloc of swing voters who could decide the election.

“Millions remain undecided and nearly half of likely voters say they could still change their minds,” AFP reported Wednesday.

Many of those voters may be put off by Le Pen’s extremist principles and her connection to American President Donald Trump. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders is believed to have suffered in last week’s vote for Prime Minister due to his association with Trump, who is negatively perceived there.

What is concerning though, is the level of devotion expressed by Le Pen’s supporters. Eighty-three percent of he backers are sure of voting for her, according to Reuters, while only 56 percent of Macron’s supporters are sure of their vote.

Netherlands’ election result may have provided some respite for supporters of Europe’s liberal democratic order but Le Pen’s candidacy is a much bigger — not yet benign — threat.

In one month, right-wing populism faces its next big test in France was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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