The victory of Donald Trump in the US election and the Brexit camp’s win in Britain have made this a humbling year for political forecasters.
In France, few now will dare write off the prospects of the far-right candidate Marine Le Penin next year’s presidential election even if the country’s two round electoral system makes it harder to pull off an upset.
It was no coincidence that Le Pen was one of the first political figures to congratulate Trump on his win.
“Congratulations to the new president of the United States Donald Trump and to the free American people,” she tweeted over an hour before the election was called for the Republican.
The vice-president of Le Pen’s National Front (FN), Louis Aliot, hailed “Uncle Sam’s giving the finger to an arrogant elite” and noted that the result coincided with the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“Today, the United States, tomorrow France. Bravo America!”
Le Pen’s father, FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen cheered.
In April, the French will begin voting for a leader who enjoys even greater executive powers than the US commander-in-chief, including the authority to send the country to war without parliamentary approval.
Polls show Le Pen making it past the first round to the May run-off among the top two vote-getters, but then being defeated by the conservative candidate, widely expected to be former prime minister Alain Juppe.
But as the world reeled from the shock of Trump’s win, voices on France’s political left and right warned all bets were off.
“The boundaries of reason disappeared with Brexit. The main lesson for us in France is that Marine Le Pen can win,” former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a Juppe backer, said.
Another former prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, echoed that assessment, saying that “what is possible in the US is possible in France”.
The left-wing daily Liberation said the US election meant “the world’s biggest power is now in the hands of the far right” and called it “a further warning for those who think that Marine Le Pen cannot win in France.” Rampant de-industrialisation, high unemployment, a wave of terrorist attacks and influx of migrants have seen disillusioned voters decamp in their droves to the “French first” FN.
Echoing of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” or Brexit’s “Take Control” slogans, Le Pen has said “the time of the nation state has come again”.
“There’s a global awakening,” she said a rally in September.
Convinced she can close the gap on moderate Juppe, Le Pen is continuing her drive to sanitise the FN’s image.
Gone is the overt anti-Semitism and race-baiting of the past.
Her rhetoric on Muslims and migrants is softer yet still resonates in a country and on a continent reeling from an unprecedented terror threat and the Syrian crisis.
However, lack of experience and political allies in a country where winning the second round of election requires politicians to make deals, will count against her, analysts believe.