Far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen came in third in the first round of the French presidential elections Sunday with an impressive score: she received 17.9% of votes, nearly one percent higher than her father received in 2002 when he made it to the second round of the elections.
Her positions on security and immigration, the National Front’s main battlegrounds, swayed many voters. According to Le Pen, illegal immigration is growing at an alarming rate, especially since “the Arab crises of late 2010 and early 2011.” She argues that France’s social benefits – “the most advantageous in all of Europe” – make it an especially attractive destination for immigrants.
To fight what she calls this “scourge,” Le Pen’s plans include doing away with laws that allow some illegal immigrants to apply for residency, as well as to drastically reduce the number of people granted asylum in France.
We asked four of our Observers around the world what they thought of this sharp rise of the far-right in France.

“I worry the National Front could become a serious alternative to the traditional right”

Youssef Fayla Cherif is a blogger. He lives in Tunis, Tunisia.
When I heard the results, my first reaction was fear. Not fear of the present, since after all Marine Le Pen got third place and is now out of the race. But fear of the future – of the presidential elections that will take place 2017 and 2022.
The National Front lost some of its momentum in the last elections in 2007 [Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, ended up in fourth place with 10.4% of the vote]. However, it seems to have really rebounded this year under Marine’s leadership.
Nicolas Sarkozy comes out of this vote weakened, so I worry that the National Front could become a serious alternative to the traditional right and become the left’s main opponent if France’s economic crisis worsens. The current social and economic crisis is a perfect breeding ground for the far-right, which feeds on the French population’s deepest fears.
Le Pen is now a kingmaker – she will determine who wins the second and final round. Sarkozy has to focus all his attention to those who voted for her if he wants to win.

“The French aren’t fundamentally racist. They’re just sad and discouraged”

Lamine M’Bengué is a musician and a storyteller. He lives between Paris, Barcelona and Dakar, Senegal. In July 2009, he filmed an illegal immigrant being brutally kicked out of the Spain at Madrid’s airport.
Imagining Marine Le Pen in power terrifies me. However, for now, what’s truly terrifying is the high score she garnered Sunday [17.9%]. This was clearly an anti-establishment vote. The National Front is a magnet for all the frustrations of the French, the despair of the unemployed and all those who feel left behind. The French aren’t fundamentally racist. They’re just sad and discouraged.
In Spain, where the far right barely has any power at all, racism is much more present than in France. In Barcelona, when I go visit my friends, their neighbours often ask me who I am and what I’m doing in their building!
I believe the French will eventually wisen up to the fact that Le Pen’s platform is empty. She’s just trying to scare people by brandishing the threat of young hooligans from the impoverished suburbs who might be tempted by radical Islamism. In the era of globalisation, her ideas are archaic and simply impossible to put into practice. France needs African workers to continue growing. If France closes its door to African workers, that’s too bad for France! They’ll just go to countries where they’ll be better welcomed: Canada, the United States, China…

“The National Front isn’t so much about punishing illegal immigrants as it is about preserving French citizens’ quality of life”

Stefan Gyuricza is an economist. He lives in Bucarest, Romania.
Nicolas Sarkozy has done a lot for France, but France needs a leader that is even stronger and better prepared to face an economic crisis.
Marine Le Pen’s excellent results are good news for France because she is the only candidate fighting for the country’s values. Her strong showing proves that French people want change, and are fed up with seeing their quality of life getting worse and worse year after year, government after government. I don’t believe she poses any threat to democracy, as some claim, because if she becomes president one day, it will be the result of a democratic vote.
The National Front’s policy proposals aren’t so much about punishing illegal immigrants as they are about preserving French citizens’ quality of life. Tough choices need to be made, and the government’s primary focus should be on its own people.
The numbers of legal immigrants in France needs to reflect a real need for additional workers. That may mean massively cutting down the number of immigrants France accepts; so be it. It does not need more unemployed people. France is a country I know very well, and I do not think the French are racist. It has always been welcoming to foreigners.

“Le Pen conveniently forgets that immigrants have contributed to France’s development”

Moulaye Oumar Haidara is an IT specialist. He lives in Bamako, Mali.
Marine Le Pen’s high score shocked me. Part of my family lives in France and would be very worried if Le Pen won in the next elections. She scares many people. Her policy proposals regarding immigrants are even more repressive than those of Nicolas Sarkozy – and that’s saying a lot!
The National Front’s plans are selfish and profoundly unfair. We all depend on one another. You [the French] give us hospitals, and us Malians help construct all sorts of buildings for you. We help each other out. It would be a tragedy if this were to end.
Le Pen conveniently forgets that immigrants have contributed to France’s development. And French companies are quite happy to hire immigrants that can do tough work for low wages.