France’s resurgent far right is vying for a shining moment this weekend, when the National Front is facing the Socialists in an election for a vacant seat in parliament. Sunday’s vote in the Doubs region is the first electoral test since the January terror attacks. It has raised political tensions as the nation waits to see whether the party’s anti-immigration message captures more hearts than the message of unity the French government is trying to preserve. The National Front’s candidate for the seat, Sophie Montrel, warns against the “Islamic peril” in France, while her Socialist opponent, Frederic Barbier, hopes to capitalize on the unity that bound the nation after the attacks on the satiric Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a Kosher grocery store that killed 17. The trauma wrought by three radical Muslims boosted the sagging profile of Socialist President Francois Hollande. Since then, he has worked to limit a backlash against France’s 5 million-strong Muslim population and ensure that youth living on society’s margins become active members of French society.
The race in Doubs speaks to a nation still shaken and trying to find its mark, and to politicians in the conservative opposition uncertain about what direction to take now — back the rival government, or throw their weight behind the far right. Both Montrel and Barbier are vying for the votes of the once-powerful conservative UMP party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy — whose candidate was eliminated in last week’s first round of voting. That loss laid bare new divisions in the party, which failed to agree on whether or not to advise Doubs voters to join the rival Socialist candidate — and lock out the far right.
Montrel won the first-round vote with a four-point lead over Barbier, who had been expected to handily take the seat of long-time Socialist party figure Pierre Moscovici who resigned to become a European commissioner.