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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: July 2009

1 - THE NICHE PARTY PHENOMENON

Summary

Running under the slogan “defend the French,” a new political party known as the Front National (FN) first fielded candidates in the 1973 French national legislative elections. Over the next three decades, the FN, fearful of the contamination and erosion of the French national identity, advocated a ban on further immigration and called for the (forced) repatriation of immigrants and the restoration of traditional French family values. Initially, the FN's promotion of this new set of issues was met with little electoral enthusiasm; in its first decade of existence, the party received less than 1 percent of the national vote per legislative election. Its charismatic leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, also fared poorly, capturing a mere 0.7 percent in the 1974 presidential election.

Although political observers and scholars at the time discounted the prospects of this minor party – especially in an electoral environment thought to disadvantage nonmainstream parties – the FN emerged as one of the strongest radical right parties in Western Europe by 2000. Even though large-scale immigration to France had been banned officially since 1974 and the percentage of foreign citizens had been stabilizing and even falling, the anti-immigrant FN won an average of more than 9 percent of the vote across national legislative elections in the 1980s and 1990s and ended the millennium with a peak vote of 14.9 percent in 1997. Once on the margins of the French political scene, the Front National would surpass the Communist Party to become the number three party in France.

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