How the Radical Right Manages Internal Democratization: A Case Study on the French National Front

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 5:45 PM
Room: Booth 45
Oral Presentation
Emmanuelle REUNGOAT , CRPS Université Paris 1 Sorbonne, PARIS, France
The French radical right party “Front National” has proven responsive to new trends adopted by political parties such as the introduction of functional alternatives to party membership and the expansion of intra-party democracy. Our paper proposes to describe this phenomenon and to analyze its effects on the internal party economy.

            The choice of an internal election to select a new president in 2011 was an absolutely new development in a party characterized by centralization, verticality and a great degree of control of the president and executive board. It generated visible conflicts at all party levels, from the executive board to the local federations and the grassroots members, resulting in a significant turnover of executives at different levels in the following elections.

Based on a methodology using archive research and interviews with both party members and executives, we show that despite the controversies that surrounded it, the introduction of this highly democratic process progressively emerged as an important tool enabling the new president, Marine Le Pen, to keep the organization under control. New faithful executives have been promoted at the national and local level.

The creation of new satellite organizations remaining independent from the party but named after its leader appears as an attempt to reach new non-member supporters while boosting party personalization and the president’s legitimacy; the president’s election by party members has fulfilled similar objectives.

These organizational responses have been assimilated in the party legacy and remain coherent with the populist tradition promoting a direct relationship between the leader and the people, and characterized by a strong loyalty and dedication to the leader. Hence, this internal democratic process has not changed the party’s routine decision-making process in the least; on the opposite, it has arguably reinforced the typical organizational model of a radical right party dominated by its leader.