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Marine Le Pen's far-right party falls short in France's regional elections

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Key Points
  • Le Pen made it to the second round of the presidential vote in 2017, but the centrist Emmanuel Macron defeated her to become France's president.
  • She has since tried to rebrand her party with a new name and slightly more moderate tone.
French far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen leaves a polling booth prior to casting her vote at a polling station for France Regional elections on June 20, 2021 in Henin-Beaumont, France.
Sylvain Lefevre | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON — France's far-right political party fell short of expectations in the first round of regional elections this weekend, raising questions about how much influence it will have in next year's presidential vote.

The National Rally — formerly known as National Front — came first in only one region in the south of France and got around 19% of the national vote, according to an Ipsos exit poll. This is worse than the party performed in the regional elections of 2015. The second round of this year's regional election takes place next weekend.

"The French far right leader Marine Le Pen was the great loser in the first round of French regional elections today — seriously deflating her hopes of challenging strongly for the presidency next year," Mujtaba Rahman, managing director at the consultancy firm Eurasia Group, said in a note Sunday.

"Marine Le Pen has now underscored the polls in all her last four election outings — suggesting that people use her to express anger with mainstream politicians but do not take her seriously as a national leader."

Le Pen made it to the second round of the presidential vote in 2017, but the centrist Emmanuel Macron defeated her to become France's president. She has since tried to rebrand her party with a new name and slightly more moderate tone in an attempt to gather more support among right-leaning voters who have been disappointed at the lack of a strong center-right party.

"For markets, the unexpectedly low level of support for the far-right RN yesterday may further reduce the modest tail risk that Le Pen could prevail next year. But it does not dispel the risk," Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg, said in a note on Monday.

France's CAC 40 traded 0.38% lower in European morning trade amid a choppy session.

High abstention levels

Experts believe that a high level of voter abstention — projected at about 68% — on Sunday has the power to shift the political landscape at the national level.

"We see figures like nearly [three-quarters] of [Le Pen supporters] stayed at home, so there's still quite a large reservoir for Marine le Pen in next year's presidential," Gilles Ivaldi, researcher at Sciences Po, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Monday.

He added that the latest regional election shows that voters "turned to people and party they know best."

Emmanuel Macron, Frances president, pauses at the Viva Technology conference at Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris, France.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The center-right party Les Republicans surprisingly received almost a third of the vote. La Republique en March, Macron's party, got only about 11%, according to the same Ipsos poll.

Ivaldi said this was the most "worrying" aspect of the election. "The presidential party is very weak," he said, mentioning a lack of grassroot support.

La Republique en March was created in the runup to the 2017 presidential vote as Macron searched to place himself in the political center and to provide a breath of fresh air to the French political scene.

"The issue for [Macron] next year is whether he can go back to the reformist agenda," Ivaldi added.

Macron was elected on a reformist and pro-European agenda. However, some of his biggest plans, including a proposed change in the pension system, have been put to the side in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

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