Marine Le Pen: new face of French far right

16th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

As well as daughter of the French National Front's founder, Marine Le Pen is also a seasoned politician who hopes, as its new leader, to polish the image of a party seen as racist.

Le Pen has angered traditionalists who saw her as an upstart benefitting from her father's position. But she has won her spurs politically, elected to local and regional council posts and to the European Parliament in 2004.

She served as the party's legal head and became its spokesman at the time of her father's 2007 presidential bid.

The blonde, twice-divorced mother of three is credited with offering a softer image of the party which has been dominated by her father, and marked by his outrage-inducing comments, since he founded it in 1972.

Analysts see her as part of a new age of far-right leaders across Europe seeking to shake off the fascist stigma of their predecessors.

Her strategy: countering the sexist, anti-Semitic reputation of her father and spinning an anti-immigration, anti-Islam agenda as a positive defence of French values.

"Le Pen is Le Pen and Marine is Marine... I don't share his view of history," she was quoted as saying in an interview with the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz this month.

"She embodies a new political generation in the National Front, which wants to modernise it and stop it seeming old-fashioned," said Nonna Mayer at elite politics school Sciences-Po, a specialist on the far right.

Critics say Marine Le Pen represents the same old Front in new clothes, playing on white voters' sensitivities over France's large Muslim population.

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

"This is the true face of the far right which has not changed in the slightest, and Marine Le Pen is just as dangerous as Jean-Marie Le Pen," Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said in response.

"When she compares Muslims praying in the street to the (wartime) Occupation, that is the kind of verbal blunder that is associated with her father," said Mayer.

"She doesn't reflect the violent image that was associated with her father. Compared to him, she represents far less the xenophobic far-right. But that doesn't mean that underneath she is any different."

A senior party official said late Friday that Marine Le Pen had won the Front's leadership in a vote by its 24,000 members, beating her rival, the traditonal party stalwart Bruno Gollnisch, 60.

She is due to be officially named the successor to her 82-year-old father on Sunday, the second day of the party's conference in the northwestern city of Tours.

© 2011 AFP

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