As Marine Le Pen secures victory in France’s regional elections, does she have a chance of winning the presidency?

It is possible that a rise in abstention will allow Marine Le Pen to reach that second round (Source: Getty)

Dr Paul Smith, associate professor in French and francophone studies at Nottingham University, says Yes

We cannot dismiss the possibility of Marine Le Pen winning the 2017 presidential election. The Front National’s national vote on Sunday was a shade under 30 per cent, and this would get her through to the second round of the election in a head-to-head against whom? Nicolas Sarkozy, or Francois Hollande? She could beat either of those.

Whereas in 2002 it wasn’t difficult for left-wing voters to flock to Jacques Chirac after the surprise elimination of Lionel Jospin, can we really imagine the same happening for Sarkozy? And would voters on the right be prepared to vote for another five years of Hollande?

For too long commentators have argued that the Front National is not a real threat, that it has no “body”. Well, now it does. A body and an electorate that has broken out of its traditional strongholds and is putting down roots across France. We thought the Front National was dead and buried in 2007. How wrong we were.

Dr Aurelien Mondon, senior lecturer in French and comparative politics at Bath University, says No

While the weekend’s results are concerning, it is worth keeping in mind that the Front National failed to appeal to more than 15 per cent of the registered vote despite a very fertile environment.

To qualify for the second round of the presidential elections in 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy received more than 21 per cent of the registered vote, a performance the Front National does not seem able to match.

However, as the mainstream parties continue to disappoint in France, and with ever greater distrust of their ability to tackle key challenges, it is possible that a rise in abstention will allow Marine Le Pen to reach that second round as her opponents’ share of the vote collapses.

Still, it is hard to imagine that she would appeal to a majority in the second round. And in any case, as always, the fate of the Front National rests more in its opponents’ hands, and in their (in)ability to rekindle their electorate, than in its own.

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