PARIS – French far-right leader Marine Le Pen gathered her party’s troops on Monday, not to mourn her loss a day earlier in the French presidential election but to plot how to orchestrate a victory in June's parliamentary vote and capture a majority of seats in the National Assembly.
Centrist President Emmanuel Macron beat her 58.5% to 41.5% to win reelection Sunday but Le Pen produced her highest-ever level of support in her three attempts to become France's leader. That gave the 53-year-old nationalist momentum as she charged into what is called the “third round” of voting, hoping to turn the tables on Macron's majority in parliament.
Le Pen called a national meeting of her far-right National Rally party on Monday. French media reports that Le Pen told party officials she would seek to renew representing her working-class stronghold in northern France could not be immediately confirmed.
Le Pen’s high support Sunday laid bare a European Union nation that is fractured between those she refers to as the “France of the forgotten” — the vulnerable working class that has been hard hit by rising inflation and the fallout from sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine — and what she calls the “elitists” of Macron's staunchly pro-EU voters.
Whether Le Pen can break through the ceiling of fear that helped block her presidential bid is central to capturing enough seats in parliament.
Le Pen’s program, which would crack down severely on immigrants and diminish the role of the EU and NATO in France, sent many voters into the arms of Macron. That was not due to their support for the 44-year-old president but to their desire to block his populist opponent. Le Pen also questioned why France is sending arms to Ukraine.
A revamped France under Le Pen — with less Europe — also pushed some voters aside. Her goal was to create a “Europe of Nations,” replacing the current system with a patriotic version that would have returned some powers to EU countries, whose sovereignty she and other populist leaders feel has been diminished.
Italian right-wing leader Matteo Salvini, a close Le Pen ally, pledged to continue their common project toward this vision.
“Onward, together, for a Europe founded on work, family, security, rights and freedom,” he said in a tweet late Sunday.
In her concession speech Sunday night, Le Pen reached out to other right-wing “patriots” to join her effort to break Macron's majority in parliament.
But the open-arms policy apparently won't include those who deserted Le Pen during the presidential race, several top party officials said, referring to party members who backed rival far-right candidate Eric Zemmour, who was eliminated in the first round of voting.
Zemmour, insulting Le Pen after her loss, called in the same breath for an alliance of the right to defeat Macron.
“He should deflate his head, which is enormous,” Louis Aliot, mayor of Perpignan and a top National Rally official, said Monday on France-Inter radio.
Even Le Pen's popular niece, Marion Marechal, who was among those who moved to back Zemmour, called for a meeting to build a far-right electoral coalition. “The stakes are vital for the legislative elections,” Marechal tweeted.
The National Assembly currently has 577 seats, with Macron and his allies controlling 313 of them. Le Pen's party has only 8 seats now but hopes for broad support from other parties to hobble Macron's ability to get his agenda passed.
The France’s voting system itself is a major barrier to Le Pen's parliamentary ambitions.
Had she become president, Le Pen would have switched to a largely proportional system that would allow her party to muscle its way into relevancy, at least by being able to form a group that would give it more clout.
France's parliamentary vote comes in two rounds on June 12 and June 19. Candidates who win a majority in the first round are elected. If no one does — a common occurrence in France's fractured political landscape — those who get at least 12.5% of the vote in a race go into a runoff on June 19.
Sunday’s presidential defeat is still breeding tomorrow’s hope for far-right militants.
“The movement we created, we’re at the start of the beginning,” said Jordan Bardella, who serves as interim party president.
Alex Turnbull in Paris and Colleen Barry in Milan contributed.
Follow all AP stories on the 2022 French presidential election at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022