Will Marine Le Pen ever fulfil her dream of becoming president of France?
The nationalist candidate won 41.4 per cent of the vote in the presidential run-off on Sunday, losing to the centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron on 58.6 per cent.
Nevertheless, Ms Le Pen said her defeat was “a victory” after leading her National Rally party closer than it has ever been to the Élysée, with more than 13.3 million votes.
In the end, the cordon sanitaire, the informal agreement that French voters will vote for anyone but the hard-Right, did its work.
But Ms Le Pen, whom Mr Macron trounced in the 2017 elections by securing 66 per cent of the vote, has eaten into the president’s lead by about eight percentage points.
Éric Zemmour, who was knocked out in the first round of the presidential election, crowed: “Alas, alas, alas, it is the eighth time that defeat has hit the name Le Pen.”
The hard-Right firebrand was referring to the long history of the Le Pen dynasty in the race for the Élysée.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the defeated candidate’s father, ran in 1974, 1988, 1995, 2002 and 2007.
When he reached the second round, horrified voters rushed to Jacques Chirac, who roundly defeated Le Pen senior by 82.2 per cent. Twenty years later, his daughter has more than doubled his 17.8 per cent.
Whether she can build on this to win in five years’ time, when Mr Macron will not be allowed to run, is uncertain.
What is clear is that she has been more, if not entirely, successful in de-demonising her party, which like Mr Macron’s En Marche, is built around her personality.
Ms Le Pen has vowed to fight on, but once parliamentary elections are over in June, many believe a new and more dynamic face could build on her foundations.
Jordan Bardella, at just 26 years old, could fit the bill in future years. Marion Maréchal, Ms Le Pen’s niece, could also step in, but relations are strained with the National Rally leader after she endorsed Mr Zemmour.
Le Pen and the nationalists will now have to share the limelight with Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his band of Leftists, who could clinch more seats in parliament and claim the mantle of Mr Macron’s main opposition.
The National Rally has profited from Mr Macron’s destruction of traditional centre-Left and centre-Right, but it has also radicalised the Left, which will make a future victory more difficult.
A total of 42 per cent of the nearly eight million voters who supported Mr Mélenchon in the first round held their nose and voted for Mr Macron to block Ms Le Pen. Meanwhile, 17 per cent went for the National Rally, but the rest are unlikely to ever flock to her party.
Mr Macron thanked those who had voted not specifically for him, but against Ms Le Pen, in a speech that aimed to heal a deeply divided France.
He now faces a polarised society, the possible loss of his parliamentary majority and divisive battles over raising the retirement age and the cost of living.
Ms Le Pen’s supporters rail against his “arrogance”, but with the lowest turnout in the second round since 1969, they are far from being the only ones dissatisfied with Mr Macron.
If that discontent builds, the National Rally could gain voters while in opposition before an election where En Marche would have to run without its founder and figurehead.
The “Republican Front” of voters held firm on Sunday, but cracks are beginning to show.
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( Information from telegraph.co.uk was used in this report. To Read More, click here )