Thursday, March 24, 2011

The most controversial woman in France

Marine Le Pen hit the headlines in January by winning the leadership election of the Front National succeeding her father, Jean Marie Le Pen who shocked the world by coming second in the 2002 presidential election and going through to a run-off round with Jacques Chirac.

The FN has traditionally been the racist, anti-immigration party. Her father denied the holocaust calling it a "detail of history". Despite the party's surprise second place finish in 2002, the party went into decline and did poorly in the last presidential election. But since winning the leadership election, Marine has tried to soften her party's image. A 42 year old, twice-divorced mum of 3 children, she has tried to convince the middle classes and women especially that she is their candidate. She is trying to present herself as the only candidate who can defend the French Republic and the values it stands for.

And to a certain degree its working - Marine Le Pen has begun to win the hearts and the minds of many French people who are angry with President Sarkozy particularly over law and order, immigration and high unemployment. In last Sunday's local elections, her party did pretty well getting 15% of the vote (not much less than Sarkozy's UMP). In Reims, the Front National came first in one canton and second in a handful of other cantons. The second round of local elections take place this Sunday and the Front National have qualified for the second-round ballot in over 400 cantons. Polls are suggesting that Marine could theoretically come first or second and get through to a run-off like her father.

But many in the country are fearful of Marine Le Pen and are shocked that she is doing so well in the opinion polls. They feel her party hasn't changed and it is still the racist, xenophobic party that her father led. She has targeted the Muslim community saying that Islamophobia doesn't exist in France and that if elected, she would completely clamp down on immigration. She even visited the Italian island of Lampedusa where many Muslim refugees have arrived since the Tunisian revolution telling the refugees that they weren't welcome in Europe and that the EU couldn't afford to keep them. This certainly goes against "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" and the idea of showing compassion to those who need our help.

Marine Le Pen is definitely gaining support and this should be a wake-up call to the two main political parties, the UMP and PS. They need to think at why French voters are turning to the FN and what they can do to stop this. They have to recognise that immigration and law and order is a big problem but need to consider the best ways to tackle these problems.  The government and the opposition also need to think about how to integrate immigrants, particularly the 6 million Muslims, most of whom love France and are proud to be French. They need to find a way to persuade immigrants to embrace French values of liberty, equality and fraternity.

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