How France embraced the far right – and what it means for the 2022 election

French election: Voters explain support for Eric Zemmour

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Eric Zemmour’s rise to political candidacy follows a long line of events that have shunted the French public further to the right than ever before, in a country where left-wing policies such as generous social welfare and workers labour protections are the backbone of society. Mr Zemmour, twice convicted of inciting hatred, has become the latest poster boy for the fast-growing far right in France, going even further than the country’s main right-wing tour de force Marine Le Pen.

A TV pundit by trade, his foray into political life has got off to a violent start, with the 63-year-old put in a headlock by a protester on Sunday evening.

At his rally, Mr Zemmour outlined his plans to create a political party called “Reconquest”, referring to the historic period known as the Reconquista, when Christian forces drove Muslim rulers from the Iberian peninsula.

Mr Zemmour is campaigning on a bizarre zero immigration policy and has frequently come under fire for his anti-Muslim comments.

He said: “If I win this election, it won’t be another rotation of power but a reconquest of the greatest country in the world.”

READ MORE: Why French Presidential hopeful Eric Zemmour’s rally turned violent

To some, his campaign to win on such a divisive ticket might be unfathomable – but recent polling suggests around a third of the electorate in France is planning to vote for a far-right candidate.

Mr Zemmour’s path has been paved by the notorious Marine Le Pen – one of the most controversial European politicians, and also among the most popular in France.

Ms Le Pen became the leader of the far-right party the National Rally, formerly the National Front, in 2011, and has since turned the party into a viable contender to lead due to her personal popularity, even going as far to declare themselves the official opposition party in France.

Like Mr Zemmour, Ms Le Pen is anti-immigration and believes multiculturalism has failed and wants the “de-Islamisisation” of French society.

Her position has led to France moving further and further on immigration and its beliefs surrounding Islam, with current President Emmanuel Macron enacting laws which dictate how Islamic women can dress and making religious leaders declare their values align with that of France.

The moves have been popular with a large proportion of voters in France, showing a clear appetite for far-right ideology, but have been likened by critics to what the Nazi’s did to the Jews in the 1930s.

But despite Europe’s history – of which France was a key part – voters in France still feel aligned with Mr Zemmour’s rhetoric on immigration and Islam.

During his presidential bid announcement, Mr Zemmour waxed lyrical about the “glory days” of post-war France – and recent polling shows many French voters agree with him.

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According to a recent Ipsos poll, only 25 percent of French people say France is not in decline, and a heft majority of 62 percent said they don’t feel at home like they used to.

The poll found 64 percent believed there are too many immigrants, and 79 percent think there is a need for a strong leader to reestablish law and order.

Other candidates, clearly shaken by the success of Mr Zemmour so far, have been moving their positions to align closer, but not as far to the right.

Valérie Pécresse, currently the president of the Ile-de-France region, has been working to unite the most right-wing in the Les Républicains party to give her the best chance of beating either of the far-right candidates and Mr Macron.

What does this mean for the 2022 election?

At this stage, there is little guarantee Mr Zemmour will even make it on to the ballot for April’s vote – but if he did, it’s likely he could take a considerable vote share from Ms Le Pen.

This would make it less likely that a far-right candidate will win office in France, potentially returning Mr Macron for another term, despite the fact the current President has not yet declared his widely anticipated intention to run.

Ms Le Pen is currently polling at around 20 percent of the vote share, according to NSPPolls, whereas Mr Macron is 5.4 percentage points ahead.

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