Op­po­nents, fam­ily feud take shine off Le Pen hopes

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

For two years, dis­af­fec­tion with main­stream pol­i­tics and dis­ar­ray among her op­po­nents have played to Marine Le Pen’s agenda. But as the days tick down to elec­tion year in France, events may have started to dim her pres­i­den­tial prospects. Since late Novem­ber, the anti-im­mi­grant, anti-glob­al­iza­tion far­right Na­tional Front can­di­date’s show­ing in opin­ion polls has slipped from about three out of 10 vot­ers to one in four.

Her niece, the Na­tional Front mem­ber of par­lia­ment Mar­ion Marechal-Le Pen, has re-opened old fault­lines within the party. And the poli­cies and per­son­al­i­ties of those emerg­ing as Marine Le Pen’s main op­po­nents look set to make cam­paign­ing tricky for her in the months ahead. The elec­tion rules are sim­ple: The two can­di­dates who win the most votes in an April firstround vote go through to a run-off round on May 7. By polling so well for so long, Le Pen’s pres­ence in that run-off had been seen as one of the few cer­tain­ties in the race.

Not any longer. “Le Pen not reach­ing round two would have been a wild bet even four months ago,” the his­to­rian Justin Vaisse, di­rec­tor of the French for­eign min­istry’s cen­ter of anal­y­sis, fore­cast­ing and strat­egy, tweeted this week. “(That’s) now cred­i­ble - even though many un­knowns re­main.” The choice on Nov 27 of Fran­cois Fil­lon as Le Pen’s main con­ser­va­tive chal­lenger in the Repub­li­cans party pri­mary was among the first signs of trou­ble.

She put a brave face on the victory for the for­mer prime min­is­ter, whose so­cially con­ser­va­tive views on abor­tion and gay mar­riage are at­trac­tive to many Le Pen sup­port­ers and helped land him the ticket ahead of the more cen­trist Alain Juppe. She fo­cused in­stead on Fil­lon’s ag­gres­sive plans to slash public sec­tor spend­ing, call­ing it an at­tack on the French work­ers she and her sec­ond-in-com­mand, Flo­rian Philip­pot, have promised to pro­tect.

But the im­pact in the polls was im­me­di­ate. A Har­ris In­ter­ac­tive sur­vey af­ter the Nov 27 pri­mary put her on 24 per­cent of vot­ing in­ten­tions, be­hind Fil­lon on 26 her low­est score in months, and one that has not im­proved since. Then her niece Marechal-Le Pen twisted the knife, giv­ing a Dec 10 in­ter­view in the Jour­nal de Di­manche Sun­day news­pa­per. The 27-year-old is ide­o­log­i­cally much closer to her grand­fa­ther Jean-Marie, the party’s now os­tra­cized founder, than to her aunt Marine and party’s mod­ern­iz­ers led by Philip­pot.

From her Vau­cluse con­stituency in the south of France, part of Marechal-Le Pen’s line is a form of so­cial con­ser­vatism not very dif­fer­ent in vot­ers’ eyes to that of Fil­lon - with both ex­press­ing clear reser­va­tions on abor­tion and gay mar­riage. “I am nei­ther in a mi­nor­ity nor am I iso­lated,” she told the news­pa­per, stand­ing firm on pro­pos­als that the state should no longer pay for preg­nancy ter­mi­na­tions. Just days ear­lier, party leader Marine Le Pen had made clear that she would not change France’s abor­tion laws.

Marechal-Le Pen has also at­tacked Phillipot, who is gay, over his sup­port for govern­ment-funded safe-sex posters de­pict­ing gay cou­ples. She called the poster cam­paign “an em­bar­rass­ment for chil­dren and for ho­mo­sex­u­als,” and said: “The ma­jor­ity, in the FN, do not share that choice at all.” Fil­lon, a Catholic like MarechalLe Pen, has said he would not change France’s abor­tion laws, but has said he is per­son­ally op­posed. He also wants to limit adop­tion rights of gay cou­ples.

By step­ping onto her tra­di­tion­al­ist turf, Fil­lon leaves the Le Pen cam­paign more de­pen­dent on her proworker agenda, which in­cludes a low­er­ing of the re­tire­ment age, hik­ing min­i­mum wages and pre­serv­ing a gen­er­ous wel­fare safety net. In that area, she al­ready faces fierce com­pe­ti­tion from the op­po­site end of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum - Jean-Luc Me­len­chon of The Left Party, a hard­liner and for­mer So­cial­ist who is run­ning for pres­i­dent with the back­ing of the French Com­mu­nist Party.

Me­len­chon is much more cred­i­ble in this area than Le Pen, ac­cord­ing to the po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Thomas Guenole. “Le Pen is trapped be­tween Fran­cois Fil­lon and Jean-Luc Me­len­chon,” said Guenole in an edi­to­rial for Le Fi­garo news­pa­per. Me­len­chon was elim­i­nated in the 2012 pres­i­den­tial con­test but scored a size­able 11 per­cent of first-round votes. He is do­ing at least that well or bet­ter in reg­u­lar polls of vot­ing in­ten­tions in 2017.

An­other hur­dle for Le Pen is the youth­ful Em­manuel Macron’s an­nounce­ment on Nov 16 that he too is run­ning for pres­i­dent, as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date who re­jects the tra­di­tional pol­i­tics of Left ver­sus Right. Opin­ion polls since then show the 38 year-old for­mer economy min­is­ter con­sis­tently in third place. He is still well be­hind Le Pen and Fil­lon, but even be­fore he launched of­fi­cially, some of her worst scores were in sce­nar­ios where he stood against her. — Reuters

Macron Fac­tor

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