France’s Le Pen: Could she pull off a Trump in 2017?

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The vic­tory of Don­ald Trump in the US elec­tion and the Brexit camp’s win in Bri­tain have made 2016 a hum­bling year for po­lit­i­cal fore­cast­ers. In France, few now will dare write off the prospects of the far-right can­di­date Marine Le Pen in next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion-even if the coun­try’s tworound 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 cur­rently show Le Pen mak­ing it past the first round to the May run-off among the top two voteget­ters but then be­ing de­feated by the con­ser­va­tive can­di­date, widely ex­pected to be for­mer prime min­is­ter Alain Juppe.

‘Marine Le Pen can win’

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, told RTL ra­dio. 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 Lib­er­a­tion daily 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 power in France in 2017.”

Ram­pant de-in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, high un­em­ploy­ment, a wave of ter­ror­ist at­tacks and an in­flux of mi­grants have seen dis­il­lu­sioned voters de­camp in their droves to the “French first” FN. In echoes of Trump’s “Make Amer­ica Great Again” or Brexit’s “Take Con­trol” slo­gans, Le Pen has de­clared “the time of the na­tion state has come again.” “There’s a global awak­en­ing,” she told re­porters at a party rally in Septem­ber, where she bashed the EU, the euro and im­mi­gra­tion.

As FN leader back in 2002, her fa­ther caused the big­gest up­set in French post­war po­lit­i­cal his­tory when he reached the sec­ond round of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Jac­ques Chirac, a con­ser­va­tive, soundly beat Le Pen, with sup­port from left­ists. Four­teen years later, 48-year-old Marine Le Pen is try­ing to over­come the last re­main­ing pock­ets of anti-FN re­sis­tance. “She is ab­so­lutely con­vinced she can win,” one of Le Pen’s ad­vi­sors told AFP re­cently.

But polls still show the lin­ger­ing stigma around the FN trip­ping her up, with her sec­ond-round ri­val, tipped to be the mod­er­ate Juppe, ex­pected to eas­ily de­feat her. Con­vinced she can close the gap, Le Pen is con­tin­u­ing her drive to san­i­tize 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.

But she can­not es­cape her fa­ther’s em­bar­rass­ing com­ments that the Nazi gas cham­bers are a “de­tail of his­tory” and her party’s pledge to pull France out of the euro has drawn scorn from economists. The FN has blamed the EU for much of France’s ills and pushed for a “Frexit” ref­er­en­dum on France’s EU mem­ber­ship. Last year, the party topped the poll in re­gional elec­tions with 28 per­cent. — AFP

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