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Le Pen succession is test of strength for France's far right

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-01-15

After four decades at the helm of the National Front and five failed presidential bids, Jean-Marie Le Pen will make way for a successor at the weekend as France's far-right party elects a new leader for the first time in its 38-year history.

For the first time in four decades, France’s far-right National Front (FN) is electing its next leader by ballot at a party congress this weekend. The vote will designate a successor to the party's controversial founder and figurehead, Jean-Marie Le Pen. While the handover is expected to breathe new life into the party, it could also expose its internal divisions.

During a congress in the central city of Tours, party members will cast secret ballots for either FN vice-president and party fixture Bruno Gollnisch, 60, or for Le Pen’s youngest daughter Marine. The latter holds sway in the party’s executive board and has grown to become one of France’s rising political stars.
 
“Bruno Gollnisch has always been looked upon as the natural successor to Jean-Marie Le Pen. For years, even before Marine Le Pen came along,” explained Radio France International’s Philip Turle. “It's as if she had stolen his job.”
 
Gollnisch, who was convicted of Holocaust denial in 2007, has publicly recognised that Marine Le Pen, 42, will in all likelihood succeed her father. But he has nonetheless launched a serious bid for the party’s top post and strongly campaigned among the FN’s rank and file.

With her blonde hair and wide smile, Marine Le Pen has been portrayed as a cover girl for a more modern National Front. She has made frequent TV appearances emphasising economic and social programmes rather than ideology and French history.

“There is a difference between the two candidates. While Marine Le Pen has shifted to more acceptable position, Gollnisch embodies the old guard and is more popular among more hard-line party members,” said Turle.
 
According to French analysts, that slight – but important difference for FN insiders – could expose the far right’s decisive internal struggle: the need to appeal to a new generation of voters but also to appease its core constituency of rapidly graying men. A split, they say, is not out of the question, but something the FN will seek to avoid at all costs.

“They desperately need to bring in more support to win enough voters to maybe cause some trouble in the next presidential election,” says Turle. “Gollnisch is not stupid and knows if he runs away from the party it’s not going to do him any good.”
 

 

Date created : 2011-01-14

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