Le Pen junior inherits French far-right leadership

16th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Marine Le Pen inherited the leadership of the French far-right on Sunday when she was elected head of her father Jean-Marie's anti-immigration National Front.

While sharing many of her father's handline views, the 42-year-old blonde brings with her a softer, more telegenic image which the party hopes will give them a break-through in next year's presidential election.

Polls suggest 17 percent of the French would vote for Marine, not enough to put her in the Elysee Palace, but enough of a threat to incumbent right-winger President Nicolas Sarkozy to force her ideas into the debate.

As expected, the Euro-MP and deputy leader, comfortably beat party rival Bruno Gollnisch to become head of one of Western Europe's most enduringly influential anti-immigrant movements.

Her 82-year-old father, a one-eyed former parachute trooper, founded the party in 1972 and led it until his retirement on Saturday, when he stepped down at the start of its congress in the northern town of Tours.

Under Jean-Marie the party never broke into government, and he was accused of racism and shunned by other movements, but he shifted the terms of the national debate and forced the mainstream right to address his views.

In 2002 he sent an electroshock through the political establishment by coming second in the first round of presidential voting, knocking Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin off the ballot.

Despite sharing her father's anti-immigration and anti-Islam positions, Marine is seen as offering a softer, potentially more-electable image. She won more than 67 percent of the party vote.

Her father read out the results before hundreds of cheering supporters,and Gollnisch ackowledged his defeat and wished her well.

Marine, Le Pen's third and youngest daughter, was born in 1968 in the plush Paris suburb of Neuilly, but has built a political base as a local councillor in the working-class industrial towns of the northern Calais region.

Like her father, she has not avoided provoking ire with outspoken comments. Last month she compared Muslims praying in the streets outside overcrowded mosques in France to the Nazi occupation.

Jean-Marie Le Pen's farewell speech on Saturday gave no indication of how the focus of the party may change under his daughter's leadership.

In it, he rejected the outrage sparked over the years by comments that saw him branded a racist but did not stop him becoming the figurehead of a small but significant and enduring chunk of the electorate.

He reiterated his doom-laden warnings on the party's two biggest issues: the spread of Islam and immigration, favourite political issues for far-right parties across Europe, some of which are elbowing their way into government.

The head of French anti-racism group SOS Racisme, Dominique Sopo, said in a statement on Saturday that the leadership change "replaces one peddler of hate with another."

© 2011 AFP

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