France: What is the Republican Front and Will It Succeed Against the National Rally?

The concept of the Republican Front, a strategic coalition of mainstream political parties to block the far-right National Rally, has long played a pivotal role in French elections, but its efficacy in the current political landscape remains uncertain

by Sededin Dedovic
France: What is the Republican Front and Will It Succeed Against the National Rally?
© Carl Court / Getty Images

After Marine Le Pen's National Rally (RN) outperformed in the first round of the special general elections in France, left and centrist parties called for a "front républicain" (republican front) against the far-right party and urged voters to form a "barrage" (blocking its progress), reports The Guardian.

The terms and practice have existed in French politics for decades. But what is the republican front, when is it deployed – and how well does it work?

What is the “republican front”?

The strategy can take various forms, but in French politics, the “republican front” describes a combined effort of several mainstream political parties and their voters to minimize the chances of the far right winning elections.

In the second round of presidential elections, as well as in other elections when only two finalists reach the second round, the parties that didn’t make it will ask their voters to support the main candidate. Voters have tended – although in decreasing numbers – to comply.

When the far right is well-positioned in the second round with three candidates qualified, which can happen in all elections except the presidential, the “republican front” is more concrete: third-placed candidates may agree to withdraw to avoid splitting the vote and to fight against the RN.

Such agreements can be local or national and rely on voters to make them effective. Regardless of their political preferences, they are called upon to “block” the far-right victory by voting for whichever candidate remains against the far-right party.

The republican front is so named because the RN is considered “anti-republican” based on its early French plans for “national preference” in jobs and benefits, as well as some of its anti-immigration proposals, which are contrary to constitutional principles of equality.

: A woman passes posters for the communist party on July 6, 2024 in Paris, France. The National Rally party was expected to have© Carl Court / Getty Images

When did the republican front first emerge?

Most historians point to 1955, during the Fourth Republic, when four center-left and center-right parties formed an electoral pact to defeat the populist, anti-tax, anti-modernization, anti-parliamentary UDCA of Pierre Poujade.

The term was first used by Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, a journalist for the magazine L’Express, and then adopted by Le Monde. One of the most influential members of the defeated UCDA was Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen's father.

How often has it been formed since then?

The republican front and barrage have been formed in various shapes in municipal, departmental, regional, parliamentary, and presidential elections since the 1980s, as the RN’s vote share – then known as the National Front (FN) – began to rise.

In the second round of the 1985 elections, for example, Prime Minister Michel Rocard's Socialist Party (PS) called for a “democratic pact,” urging left-wing voters to block FN candidates by voting for the mainstream right center.

The apex of the republican front is widely considered the 2002 presidential elections, when in a political earthquake, NF leader Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round at the expense of Socialist Party Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Every party in the national assembly called on their voters to support the right-center UMP candidate Jacques Chirac, who won a second term in the Elysée Palace with 82 percent.

Has it always been successful?

The republican front has been in constant decline since 2002.

In the 2011 local elections, right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy called on his party’s voters to choose “neither FN nor PS” in the second round, as the socialists had formed local alliances with the far-left parties.

In the second round between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen for the 2017 presidential elections, only two out of nine parties that were eliminated in the first round – PS and the right-center Les Républicains (LR) – officially called on their voters to support Macron.

In the second round of the 2022 presidential elections, as the RN continued to steadily increase its vote share in nearly every ballot, two other far-right candidates, Éric Zemmour and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, called on their voters to support Le Pen.

Defeated center-right, center-left, green, and communist candidates called on their voters to vote for Macron, but Jean-Luc Mélenchon from the radical left La France Insoumise (LFI) made a subtly different appeal, urging them to “vote against the RN”.

Macron won with 58 percent – far from Chirac's 82 percent. And in the ensuing parliamentary elections, the presidential camp revived Sarkozy's “neither… nor,” refusing to tell their voters how to vote in the second round between the RN and the left-wing alliance that included LFI.

The RN’s 33 percent result in the first round of the extraordinary parliamentary election influenced calls for a republican front for today's second round, with 221 candidates, including 83 from Macron's camp and 132 from the left-green alliance NFP, withdrawing as third-placed candidates.