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Is Le Pen France's 'most popular' female politician?

© AFP

Text by Mehdi Chebil

Latest update : 2013-03-04

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has said she was the country’s most popular female politician after coming second in an opinion survey, describing the top ranker, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, as a “stateless” politician.

The leader of the French far-right National Front party claims to be France’s most popular female politician after a weekly paper published an opinion poll to pick the country’s most well-liked women in politics.

According to the Journal du Dimanche survey, 31% of the respondents want Marine Le Pen “to play a more important role in French politics”. The daughter of far-right firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen actually came second to International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde (34%).

But Marine Le Pen claimed that she was the real number one after discarding Christine Lagarde as a “stateless” politician.

“Madame Lagarde is not a French politician, she is a stateless female politician,” Marine Le Pen told French television BFM.

“When one leads an international institution, one forgets her own nationality (…) and doesn’t refer anymore to her nation’s interests. [Being IMF chief] disqualifies her as a French politician.”

War of the roses

French analysts have pointed to the contrary characters of the country’s two most popular female politicians.

While Christine Lagarde embodies the country’s cosmopolitan political elite, Marine Le Pen rose to prominence by riding a populist wave against immigration and globalisation.

Christine Lagarde is ranked as the eighth most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine. She cut her teeth at the international law firm Baker & McKenzie -- which she eventually chaired -- before becoming France’s minister of economic affairs.

Lagarde's current position at the helm of the IMF is seen in Paris as a safe haven from French politics. International media have reported that her physical appearance -- designer scarves, pearl necklaces, upscale clothes, year-round tan -- highlights her belonging to what Marine Le Pen calls France's "la caste."

The National Front leader did not make the Forbes list, but she ranked third in the first round of last year’s presidential election with 18 percent of the vote. Despite her wealthy upbringing, Marine Le Pen portrays herself as someone who has come from an underprivileged background, in order to win support in France's crisis-hit areas.

With her repeated calls for a referendum on France’s membership of the European Union, the far-right leader hopes to improve her electoral score during next year’s municipal elections.

As to Christine Lagarde, her honeymoon with the French public could well be short-lived because of a judicial scandal dating back to the days when she was finance minister -- she is suspected of abusing her position to hand out €285 millions of state money to end a court dispute with a controversial tycoon.

Date created : 2013-03-04

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