On 21 April 2002 a political earthquake rocked France. In the first round of the presidential elections, the National Front candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, came in second, behind the sitting president, Jacques Chirac, and ahead of the favorite, the Socialist Party candidate, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. In response to this disappointing result, Jospin immediately announced his retirement from political life. The result of the (runoff) second round, following massive anti–National Front street demonstrations, was admittedly an overwhelming victory for Chirac, who obtained 82.2 percent of votes cast as compared with Le Pen's 17.8 percent. But it still meant that in a country much given to advertising itself as a model of democracy, the Far Right could garner almost a fifth of French votes. Nor was this a new development: over the previous twenty years the National Front had become a significant player among political forces in France, and France by extension had acquired one of the largest far-right constituencies in a European country. The National Front's leader was certainly a talented individual, but it took him a very long time to translate that talent into ballots. Suffice it to recall that the Front, over which Le Pen had presided from its foundation in 1972, failed for over ten years to cull more than 1 percent of votes cast in elections; indeed, in the presidential elections of 1981, Le Pen could not even gather the five hundred signatures required by law for him to run.
It was only in 1984 that the National Front began its rapid ascent. A harbinger of things to come was Le Pen's performance in the 1982 municipal elections, when he collected 11.3 percent of the votes in the working-class 20th arrondissement (or district) of Paris. In 1984, at the national level, the party obtained 10.95 percent of votes cast in the European parliamentary elections. In presidential contests, the Front's share of votes reached 14.39 percent in 1988 and 15 percent in 1995, while in the legislative elections of 1997 it came to 15.24 percent. These percentages represent millions of French citizens—more than 4.5 million in 1995. All French political parties have a high turnover of supporters, but this trait is even more marked in the case of the National Front, in view of which one can but conclude that a very significant proportion of the French people have voted at least once since the 1980s for the Far Right. The Front has become a permanent feature of France's political landscape.
How is this to be explained? One consideration is the National Front's propensity to attract protest votes. For a portion of the electorate, a vote for the Front has been no more than an expression of dissatisfaction, cast in the confident expectation that the party would not come to power. It is noteworthy, however, that the French Communist Party long antedated the Front as a recipient of protest votes. The riseo f Le Pen's party was in inverse proportion to the decline of the Communists: at least to some extent the two parties were like communicating vessels. In the 1984 European elections the National Front was just behind the Communists, and in the legislative elections of 1986 it overtook them. Of course this is not to say that Communist voters went over en masse to the Front; many, indeed, defected instead to the Socialists or to small far-left parties. Yet a time eventually came when many more workers were voting for the National Front than for the Communist Party. The Soviet model no longer held out any promise, and many working-class voters were seduced by Le Pen's denunciation of "immigration, insecurity, unemployment" and by his trumpeting of the purported solution: "French people first." The failure of the Socialist Party to fulfill its promise to "change life" after its triumphant victory in 1981 merely strengthened the appeal of the Front, especially since the Socialists were vulnerable to the charge that they neglected the issues of public safety and immigration.
There can be no doubt, in any case, that the growth of the National Front resulted from the addition of a large number of solidly working-class voters to the party's traditional constituency of conservative Catholics and rightists motivated by nostalgia for Vichy France or French Algeria. The Front's composition accounts for the fact that, twenty years after it first burst onto the French political scene, it is still a factor to be reckoned with and has several times thrown French political institutions into turmoil. The National Front has survived the more or less long-term electoral impact of many controversial issues, among them Le Pen's verbal excesses and the naked racism they betray, the party's support for Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, the profaning of the Jewish cemetery in Carpentras (widely attributed to the Front), and above all the split of 1998, when a portion of the party's supporters left under the leadership of Bruno Mégret and formed the National and Republican Movement (MNR). Only time will tell whether the National Front can survive the departure of its aging chief, who was seventy-six years old in 2004.
Becker, Jean-Jacques, and Pascal Ory. Crises et alternances, 1974–2000. New ed. Paris, 2002.
Le Pen, Jean-Marie. Les Français d'abord. Paris, 1984.
Mayer, Nonna, and Pacal Perrineau, eds. Le Front national à découvert. Rev. ed. Paris, 1996.
Perrineau, Pascal. Le symptôme Le Pen, radiographie des électeurs du Front national. Paris, 1997.
The National Front was a coalition between Colombia's two main political parties, in force between 1958 and 1974. In 1956 Liberal leader Alberto Lleras Camargo and exiled Conservative leader Laureano Gómez started discussions on a long-term accord to end the partisan Violencia that had claimed 200,000 lives since the 1940s, and to replace the military regime in power since 1953. The final accord, ratified in the plebiscite of December 1957, provided for alternation of the presidency between the two parties; parity in the cabinet, the judiciary, and in all elected bodies; and the requirement for a two-thirds majority to pass important legislation. (This last provision was amended in 1968.) The Frente regimes were successful in controlling the Violencia and in redefining its remnants as apolitical or subversive. The Frente's social and economic record was generally mediocre; politically, the Frente's provisions increased the level of intraparty conflict and eventually encouraged abstentionism. The Frente lapsed in 1974, its mission completed; a residual provision for "equitable participation" by the opposition party in the cabinet was abolished in the 1991 constitution.
See alsoLleras Camargo, Alberto .
Berry, R. Albert, Ronald G. Hellman, and Mauricio Solaun, eds. Politics of Compromise: Coalition Government in Colombia (1980).
Hartlyn, Jonathan. The Politics of Coalition Rule in Colombia (1988).
Leal Buitrago, Francisco. La seguridad nacional a la deriva: Del Frente Nacional a la posguerra fría. Bogotá, Colombia: Universidad de los Andes, CESO, 2002.
Martz, John D. The Politics of Clientelism: Democracy & the State in Colombia. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1996.
Richard J. Stoller