Politics March 26, 2017
Panic alarms are ringing around the world at the prospect of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen becoming the new president of France.
She currently leads in the opinion polls ahead of the April 23 election as support soars for her Front National party’s anti-immigration and nationalistic policies, which include quitting the EU, kicking out foreigners, heavily taxing imports and ditching the euro.
Anxiety about a Le Pen victory is troubling investors globally. That’s because the French president holds the greatest amount of executive power in any western democracy and if Le Pen was to get to impose her agenda of intolerance it would have an impact far beyond France.
Support for the 48-year-old ex-lawyer’s party has surged following a rise in anti-immigrant feeling since the various terror attacks there.
Historically a party of fascists, Le Pen has, in recent years, repackaged and softened some of Front National’s traditionally xenophobic positions to be more palatable to the mainstream electorate. But in a county reeling from a record unemployment level of 10 percent, losing faith in the political establishment and becoming increasingly Islamophobic, stoking the fires of racism seems to be working on the campaign trail, where she repeatedly calls Islam a threat to women’s rights.
As she said in a recent speech, “We do not want to live under the rule or threat of Islamic fundamentalism. They are looking to impose on us gender discrimination in public places, full-body veils or not, prayer rooms in the workplace, prayers in the streets, huge mosques … or the submission of women.”
Everywhere she delivers her “France for the French” message, promising to prioritize native French people for benefits, housing and jobs while demonizing Islam, cheering crowds chant “On est chez nous” (We are in our land).
Fifteen years ago, her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, came close to winning the French presidency as leader of Front National but fell short. Now his daughter could close the deal.
Le Pen’s campaign has been dogged by inquiries into her political associations, with several of her party’s candidates exposed as homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic, yet she still holds a narrow lead in the polls.
Some of Donald Trump’s questionable associations have been the subject of criticism and investigation too of course, but it didn’t do him any harm in the U.S. presidential election.
Donald Trump’s against all odds victory in the U.S. election has given Le Pen hope of pulling off a similar upset. She has said she feels “comforted” by Trump’s win and says that combined with Britain’s vote to leave the European Union represents a shifting of the political tides towards anti-establishment causes.
She has praised Trump as a man who respects campaign promises and acts quickly. Just like him, she scores well in the polls with lesser educated voters. She is also pro-Putin.
Political commentators widely and wrongly predicted Trump would lose the U.S. election. In France the prediction is Le Pen will do very well in the April 23 vote but won’t win a decisive majority over the other 10 candidates which means, under the French system, she will have to go into a May 7 run-off election for the presidency with the other candidate who receives the most votes – expected to be centrist Emmanuel Macron.
He has become a tabloid fixture in Europe due to the fact his wife is 24 years his senior and used to be his teacher. Le Pen, by the way, is twice divorced and dating a politician in her party.
Macron prefers to discuss politics rather than personal lives and says of his opponent, “If she delivers what she proposes, she will kill the European Union. She will kill the single market. She wants diversion – on immigration, on the economy, on finance.”
French political commentators think tactical voting will prevent Le Pen beating Macron in the run-off as rival parties throw support behind the more moderate candidate . But don’t be so sure.
As the history of Europe shows, she wouldn’t be the first far-right candidate to make alliances to pave her way to the top. Several historians have pointed out that Adolf Hitler only had 33 per cent of the votes in Germany in the early 1930s before he made deals with center-right parties to seize power.
Women voters could hold the key to whether Le Pen wins the presidency or not. She has attracted more females to the Front National cause than her father ever did but needs them to turn out for her on election day.
Her key female supporters are those hit hardest by the country’s economic crisis, such as single mothers in low paying jobs struggling to make ends meet.
With a manifesto of 144 policy initiatives for turning France’s fortunes around, Le Pen certainly presents herself as the savior of them and others who are struggling. She says, “The aim is give France its freedom back and give the people a voice.”
Le Pen keeps a poster of Clint Eastwood on the wall of her campaign office because he represents her favorite quality: toughness. She certainly talks tough. But many experts believe there will be tough times ahead for the world if she wins.
Among them is France’s leading political commentator, Jean-Yves Camus, who has said of Le Pen’s victory chance, “It’s improbable but is no longer in the realms of science fiction. If France, and her political class don’t come to their senses soon, the country’s future will be more like a horror story.”
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