PARIS (Reuters) - France’s far-right National Front is projected to win no more than five seats in the lower house of parliament, polls showed after the first round of voting on Sunday, failing to capitalise again on widespread frustration at mainstream parties.
It was the second setback for the anti-establishment party in barely a month after its leader Marine Le Pen reached the presidential run-off vote only to be soundly beaten by Emmanuel Macron and his bid to renew French politics from the centre.
Her defeat in May brought huge relief to European allies who had feared another populist upheaval to follow Britain’s Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president, and disappointment to the party faithful.
They then set their sights on winning enough parliamentary seats to form a parliamentary group and with it more voice in the chamber. Fifteen are required, but that too now looks very unlikely.
With most first round votes counted, the National Front was on course to win about 13.5 percent of votes.
That would barely be above the party’s score in the legislative elections five years ago and far behind its performances in regional, European and presidential ballots over the past three years.
Worse still, projections showed it possibly winning as few as just one seat in the 577-seat chamber in next week’s second round.
Le Pen, herself in a commanding position to be elected to the national parliament for the first time after winning 46 percent of first round votes, put on a brave face, urging voters not to abstain next week.
“A strong mobilisation (on June 18) could allow us to win several constituencies,” she said. “Patriotic voters must ... turn out en masse to polling stations next Sunday.”
Other senior Front officials, including her deputy Florian Philippot and secretary general Nicolas Bay, admitted to being “disappointed”.
No parliamentary group means little speaking time in the lower house and next to zero chance of chairing a committee.
Jean-Yves Camus, a researcher who specialises in the far-right, said turnout at parliamentary elections among the party’s core working class support base was traditionally low and an obstacle the party had once again failed to surmount.
“Working class voters vote less in parliamentary elections than in presidential ones,” he said. “There is also the fact that a majority for Macron’s party seemed a foregone conclusion and people are just tired of an election campaign that has been going on for months.”
Despite the poor performance, Le Pen’s control over the party remained too strong for any challenge to her leadership in the near future, he said, especially after her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen stepped away from politics.
Le Pen’s presidential defeat triggered a row within the party over what stance it should take on the euro. Le Pen had campaigned for France to quit the single currency - a move unpopular even among many National Front supporters.
Le Pen has said she will overhaul the party and open debates on its key policies, including the euro.
Reporting by Ingrid Melander and Simon Carraud; Editing by Richard Lough