Marine Le Pen: The new face of French extremism

December 9, 2015 12:06 pm

’s options are no longer as simple as left and right. The far
right, anti-establishment National Front has ridden a wave of anger over
migration and extremist attacks straight into the political mainstream –
where experts predict it will stay.
The party’s historic results
in Sunday’s first round of regional elections were the latest in a
series of electoral inroads, with scores that shamed and destabilised
the traditional parties. The conservative party of former President
Nicolas Sarkozy and President Francois Hollande’s Socialists – the
long-standing anchors of French political life – scrambled to find ways
to block the ascent of the far right before the December 13 final round.
showing of the National Front – which won six of 13 regions – will
dynamise leader Marine Le Pen’s planned bid for the presidency in 2017.
In the traditionally Socialist northeastern region where she was
running, the party won more than 40 per cent of the vote.

Her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, had a similar showing in
the southeastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, a stronghold of the
traditional right.
In a bid to stop a second-round National Front
victory, the Socialist Party ordered its candidates to withdraw in
those two regions so their supporters could give their votes to
conservative candidates, a bitter exercise that Prime Minister Manuel
Valls said was necessary.
“There is a choice between two visions
of France,” Valls said on Monday night on the TV station TF1 – that of
traditional parties and that of the extreme right “which divides the
French, tries to pit one against the other.”
Opponents say the
National Front criticises without offering solutions. The party, which
currently has four lawmakers in Parliament, is opposed to the European
Union and the euro currency and fears that Muslim immigrants will
supplant French civilization, replacing church bells with calls to
prayer. But Le Pen says hers is the party of patriots – a message with
special resonance in a France on edge since the November 13 attacks in
Paris that killed 130.
Marine Le Pen replaced her father, party
co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011. She immediately set about
changing its anti-Semitic image to make it less toxic to voters and undo
its pariah status. In its former life, people were often too ashamed to
reveal that they had voted for the National Front. Experts widely
considered its performances, particularly under Jean-Marie Le Pen, as a
way to punish mainstream parties.
Leading far right expert Jean-Yves Camus said he no longer believes National Front voters are protesting.
a political party … keeps going through the glass ceiling you cannot
say it is uniquely a protest party,” Camus said. Now, he said, voters
were sticking to the party.
“We are incontestably in a country that has a perfect tri-party system.”
far right’s long-standing calls for France to increase security and
lock its doors to immigrants, especially Muslims, dovetailed this year
with two attacks by extremists and the continuing influx of migrants to
. No other party was able to tackle the National Front on its own
political turf.
Far right parties have made inroads across Europe
in recent years, from Greece to Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands and
elsewhere. Le Pen heads a powerful far right group in the European
Parliament. All are feeding on the migrant crisis.
German Vice
Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the National Front’s strong performance
must be a “wake-up call for all democrats in Europe”.
together and solidarity in Europe are now more important than ever,
including in dealing with the question of refugees,” Gabriel was quoted
as telling the Bild newspaper.
Marine Le Pen attributes her party’s high scores to the nature of the political class, and the system it defends.
believe that the National Front’s incredible results are the revolt of
the people against the elite,” she said on RTL radio. “The people no
longer support the disdain they have been [subjected to] for years by a
political class defending its own interests.”
Analysts say that, despite the strong showing, the National Front is not guaranteed a stunning win in the final round.
National Front is an excellent first-round party,” said Camus. More
difficult is “transforming itself into pole position in round two”.
But no one questions the falling away of the far right stigma.
know more and more people who vote for the National Front, people that I
know and that I meet,” said Parisian Migael Lalor, 44.
for the National Front is now something almost ordinary,” he said,
adding that for him the party nonetheless inspires “dread” and “fear”.

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