National Front victorious: French regional elections, 6th of December

When French President, François Hollande contacted the country’s leading politicians to invite them to march in support of Republican values after the Charlie Hebdo massacre earlier this year, there was one striking absence: Marine Le Pen. The same woman whose far-right party, the National Front, topped the country's regional elections yesterday.

Leading in half of the country's electorates, the National Front received almost 30 per cent of the national vote and is now expected to take control of two regions; the country's poorest region in the far north and the glitzy Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. This is unprecedented.

The election was marked by a high abstention rate; just under 50 per cent of all registered voters cast their ballot (more than doubling the rate from three decades ago). And this always benefits the National Front. But this unequivocal result, coming soon after the party's first place in the European elections indicates a major shift in the French political landscape.

When French President, François Hollande contacted the country’s leading politicians to invite them to march in support of Republican values after the Charlie Hebdo massacre earlier this year, there was one striking absence: Marine Le Pen. The same woman whose far-right party, the National Front, topped the country's regional elections yesterday.

Leading in half of the country's electorates, the National Front received almost 30 per cent of the national vote and is now expected to take control of two regions; the country's poorest region in the far north and the glitzy Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. This is unprecedented.

The election was marked by a high abstention rate; just under 50 per cent of all registered voters cast their ballot (more than doubling the rate from three decades ago). And this always benefits the National Front. But this unequivocal result, coming soon after the party's first place in the European elections indicates a major shift in the French political landscape.

Indeed, Le Monde's front page from this morning demonstrates the extent of the National Front victory. It is a map of France, with all the results coloured pink for the ruling Socialists (and other left parties); blue for the Republicans, formerly the UMP, led by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and brown for the National Front. From the north to the south, to the east and into the centre, the map of France is almost completely shaded brown.

Back in January, the logic behind the exclusion of Le Pen from the march was simple. The anarchist cartoonists behind Charlie Hebdo despised Le Pen père et fille . Hollande was merely following usual practice here; that is, either ignoring, or blocking, Le Pen and her party in the hope that they might fade into the background.

And yet the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead and 350 injured changed everything. At the deeply moving national ceremony to remember these victims at Les Invalides, Marine Le Pen was present. Les Invalides is the symbolic heart of Paris' military past and present; a site that houses the ashes of Napoleon Bonaparte and has traditionally been used to commemorate the passing of important heads of state; fallen soldiers; police killed in the line of duty and résistants. This was the first time 'ordinary heroes' were to be commemorated there, and here the French State was making a clear point. As Patrick Garcia, Professor of History at Cergy-Pontoise told Le Figaro: ''The victims of the 13th of November were elevated to the level of military heroes.'

The Saturday after the Paris carnage, Le Pen repeated the National Front's three core demands first outlined after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January; the closure of France's borders (the party wants this to be permanent); the stripping of French citizenship from dual citizens involved in terrorism and the closure of 'Salafist' – extremist - mosques in France. The Hollande government announced its agreement with all three; while declaring a state of emergency in France that will continue until next year.

It would be easy to argue that Sunday's historic victory of the National Front will have little political influence here (how important are decisions decided in the regions in terms of a national politic?) or that it will not guarantee Marine Le Pen's success in the 2017 Presidential poll.

It would be easy, but misguided. What this election demonstrates is the truly national reach of the National Front (the six regions include Alsace in the east and also central regions, such as Burgundy and the Loire Valley). Alsace also has the second highest rate of absenteeism – after the Ile-de-France, which includes Paris.

Moreover, as Australians, the British and Americans know full well: the shocking success of parties largely considered to be fringe, or marginal not only shake up the content, but how politics is played by the mainstream parties. And this is what is happening now in France.

Back in 2002, after the National Front founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen was included in the run-off presidential election, French voters – right and left - united to support the conservative Jacques Chirac (who received 82 % of the national vote).

Today, governing Socialist politicians are calling for the same, urging candidates to withdraw or for voters to be 'strategic' in an effort to keep the National Front out of power. This suggests that they are not only rattled, but scared. The problem here is that such efforts only reinforce one of the National Front's key arguments, that is that mainstream parties are the same; and only look out for their own interests.

In January, Marine Le Pen responded to her exclusion from the Paris rally that ended up attracting more than 1.5 million people onto the streets of Paris in a characteristic fashion. What her exclusion showed, she said, was that the march was more about the political class than anything else. It was also an insult to the 25 per cent of the French population that voted National Front in the European elections in May, 2014, when the party topped a national poll for the first time.

Taking on the victim role, she said that the National Front represents the ‘invisible and forgotten’ unlike the ‘gang of four’ (the classic French political parties).

Some years earlier, in a meeting in Metz, north-eastern France, Marine Le Pen summed up her political world-view when she said her party spoke directly to ‘farmers, the unemployed, workers, the retired, people living in rural France. You are the forgotten ones, the invisible majority, crushed by a financial system gone mad,’ she said. Then she added, 'For the political class, the UMP-PS (conservative and Socialist party), when faced by their god, the triple A finance rating, you are the triple nothing.