Le Pen’s niece leads National Front’s return to French parliament
National Front leader Marine Le Pen has lost her bid for a parliamentary seat by a narrow margin of 118 votes, out of 55,000. But her niece's surprise victory ensures the Le Pen family will be represented in France's National Assembly.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen lost her bid for a parliamentary seat in the northern working-class town of Hénin-Beaumont by a mere 118 votes (out of a total of more than 55,000 ballots) in the second round of parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Her party, the National Front, has demanded a recount. Nonetheless, she declared on Sunday night, "We only have reasons to be happy to have achieved spectacular results."
Indeed, the National Front has gained a foothold in parliament for the first time since the mid-1980s, with two seats won in constituencies in southern France.
One of the new far-right lawmakers is 22-year-old Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, niece of Marine Le Pen and granddaughter of party founder Jean-Marine Le Pen.
Her grandfather convinced her to stand as candidate for Carpentras, an agricultural town, to restore the National Front’s image after it was accused of being directly involved in the vandalizing of the town’s Jewish cemetery two decades ago.
Delivering a toned-down version of her party's hardline policies to a younger generation of voters, Marechal-Le Pen, while saying she does not back all the National Front's ideas, insists her success shows the party is gaining a prominent spot in French politics.
"If the elites listened, they would understand why French young people like me are joining our ranks," she said in a victory address, vowing to defend national sovereignty and giving priority, in such things as employment or housing, to French nationals.
The other newly-elected National Front lawmaker is lawyer Gilbert Collard, who was chairman of Marine Le Pen’s support committee.
"I plan to make the voices heard of a people who have had enough," he said. "My mission will be to be a democratic pain in the arse, I will not let anything go."
The National Front has long been shut out of parliament by the first-past-the-post electoral system, although it had 35 lawmakers in the National Assembly between 1986 and 1988 when France experimented with a proportional voting system.
Since firebrand founder Jean-Marie Le Pen handed leadership over to his daughter, the party has revamped its image from anti-Semitic and racist to a more mainstream, anti-immigration party.
In May, Marine Le Pen placed third in the country’s presidential race.