Ie crois que Ie Front National,
pour Ie moment, est parfaitement place pour elargir son
audience. - National Front vice president
It is customary at this point in a study of this type
to comment that the National Front is now at a crossroads in its devel-
opment, but such an assertion would be an overstatement of the current
political reality facing this increasingly influential political party. The
Front's exceptional first-round performance in the 1997 legislative elec-
tions did in fact signal another significant step in the party's quest for
political legitimacy. Those results reconfirmed its performance in the
1995 presidential elections by preserving Le Pen's 15 percent share of
the popular vote. This was indeed an important accomplishment be-
cause it was the first time the party's candidates had proven capable of
replicating the truly impressive vote totals their leader had amassed in
the previous two presidential contests. After the 1997 elections, the par-
liamentary party was, for the first time in its history, on an equal foot-
ing with its perennial presidential candidate. Simply put, the National
as a political party,
had finally emerged from the long shadow cast
by Le Pen's leadership.
Armed with an increasingly experienced cadre of candidates, the Front
successfully capitalized on its growing party infrastructure to supplant
as the third largest political force in France. Although the far
right Front seated but one deputy in the National Assembly, its strong
performance rankled and even frightened the seemingly somnolent
mainstream right. The 1998 regional elections scheduled for the spring
of 1998 will further test the electability of the party's expanding can-
didate base. However, it will face its next crucial challenge when Jean-
Marie Le Pen, who has been so essential to the party's development,
either decides to step down or is pushed aside. At that point the party
will surely find itself at a decisive crossroads.
The Front's development from a minor groupuscule on the far right
fringe of French politics into a solidly anchored, mass-based political
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