L’ISLE-SUR-LA-SORGUE, France – Located between tributaries in south-eastern France, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is known for its cobblestone streets and sun-drenched open-air market.

But before the local elections That month, the debate in this small town and in others across France centered on the aftermath of the beheading of a school teacher near Paris by a Chechen refugee last autumn and the murder of churchgoers in the Nice weeks later by a Tunisian Migrants.

Across France, questions about the place of Islam in French society and tensions over immigration have preoccupied many and pushed voters to the right.

In response, the President’s centrist government has

Emmanuel Macron

leaning towards more conservative politics and cracking down on mosques and other Islamic organizations that allegedly practice Islamist separatism, Macron describes what the government is saying as a movement that tries to override civil laws with religious ones.

But the shift to the right The electorate has particularly benefited

Marine Le Pen,

Chairman of the National Rally Anti-Immigration Party. Ms. Le Pen has long blamed a number of attacks in recent years on what she believes to be a soft immigration policy, which she believes allows radical Islamic currents to gain a foothold in the country and fuel violence – a link that the Macron government has rejects.

A recent public opinion poll found that 71% of French people are opposed to accepting new immigrants, compared with 64% in 2018. The proportion of respondents who believe that accepting migrants increases the risk of terrorist attacks the survey also rose from 53% to 64%.

“We need more security and less immigration,” said 62-year-old Bruno Ducres, who was at the open-air market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue one afternoon Earthenware and pottery sold. As millions of French people cast their vote in regional elections across the country this Sunday, Mr Ducres said he plans to cast his vote for Mrs Le Pen’s candidate.

Thierry Mariani.

Mr Mariani led the first ballot on Sunday and received an estimated 35.7% of the vote in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, a region between the Mediterranean and the Alps in south-eastern France.

Ms. Le Pen seeks to position her party as the standard bearer of conservative politics by recruiting candidates with established credentials and focusing the public debate on bourgeois issues such as security, immigration and radical Islam that split the centrist ranks of Mr. Macron . In an email to supporters last month, Ms. Le Pen made an “appeal to all righteous Conservatives,” calling on them to unite behind their attempt to challenge Mr. Macron in next year’s national elections.

The approach is part of Ms. Le Pen’s efforts to reassure voters that she and other leaders of her party’s National Rally have exposed the party’s anti-Semitic past and are ready to rule. Mr Mariani, 62, was a staunch supporter of the conservative Les Républicains party after serving as a minister under the president

Nicolas Sarkozy,

before Mrs Le Pen ran him for the presidency of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

A Mariani victory would put Mrs Le Pen’s party at the head of a regional government for the first time. It would also signal that it is capable of transcending the républicain front, the decade-old tactic of the mainstream parties to unite behind a single candidate in order to defeat far-right candidates. Mr Macron sailed to victory in 2017 after Les Républicains and the Socialist Party – longtime rivals – threw their support behind them.

Les Républicains and the Socialist Party have expressed doubts about their willingness to unite behind Mr Macron when he will play against Ms. Le Pen in the spring of 2022. Le Pen received 47% of the vote in a runoff election with Mr. Macron, compared with 53% for the incumbent. That’s a much smaller margin than Mr Macron’s win from 66% to 34% in 2017.

“I’ve given Macron a chance, but I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. I will vote for Marine Le Pen next year, ”said Marie-Claude Sureda, a 66-year-old pensioner from the port city of Marseille.

For the regional races, Mr. Macron tried to cover up the cracks in the front-line republic. His party supported the candidate of Les Républicains, Renaud Muselier, instead of putting up his own candidate for the candidacy against Mr Mariani in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

Mr Mariani has tried to turn the support of Mr Macron into a political one Transforming burden by portraying Mr Muselier as a sidekick of the President who he says mitigates crime. Mr Mariani sat in a cafe in front of a tree-lined square and said he had no choice but to leave Les Républicains to be true to himself.

“Today they are constantly betraying their beliefs to bring Macron closer.” come, “said Mariani about his former party. Ms. Le Pen, he said, “has the clearest manifesto when it comes to what matters: security, immigration, justice. And she will have the courage to pull through. “

Mr Muselier said an alliance with Mr Macron is the only way to beat the National Rally, adding,” There are historical moments that require us come together. ”

In the runoff election, which is to take place next Sunday, a survey carried out between June 3 and June 7 by Ipsos Sopra Steria among 1,000 people showed that Mr. Mariani Mr. Muselier regardless of whether the socialists and Greens support him, who is one step ahead.

Mr Mariani is a well-known face in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. He grew up in a nearby town where he served as mayor for a decade and a half and represented the region in the National Assembly until 2017 when he lost his seat.

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As a member of Les Républicains, Mr Mariani was a vocal supporter of a stricter immigration policy. He unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to the French Constitution that would have enabled the authorities to revoke their French citizenship from convicted criminals. Mr. Mariani also stood out for his support for the Russian President

Wladimir Putin

and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as well as for his frequent visits to Syria, where he met the President

Bashar al-Assad.

In 2019, Ms. Le Pen recruited him to run for the European Parliament elections in the National Rally, in which he won a seat.

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A win in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur could encourage other establishment politicians to join Ms. Le Pen, said Christian Montagard, who recently left Les Républicains and in a down -Voice race for Mr. Mariani’s ticket. It could also help Ms. Le Pen advance her party’s departure from heritage as a movement rooted in xenophobic and nativist rhetoric. She drove her father away

Jean-Marie LePen,

who once described Nazi gas chambers as a “detail” of World War II history and renamed the party from the National Front, nicknamed under her father.

“The National Rally has nothing to do with the National Front. It’s a party like any other now, ”said Mr. Montagard.

Ref: https://www.wsj.com