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France

French far right risks schism with Le Pen family feud

© Guillaume Souvant, AFP | Jean-Marie Le Pen on May 15, 2014

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-04-10

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front (FN), has publicly come out against her father and the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, but questions remain whether she can politically afford the split.

Marine Le Pen announced on Thursday that she planned to launch disciplinary proceedings against her father, urging him to withdraw from politics. The move came one day after she issued a statement opposing his candidacy in the country’s upcoming regional elections over his latest inflammatory comments.

Jean-Marie Le Pen on Friday rejected his daughter’s remarks. Asked on RTL radio whether he would stay in politics, he said: “Obviously - I’m a politician.”

He said he would fight any disciplinary action by the party’s leadership and would seek the party’s candidacy for the presidency of the southeastern Provence, Alps and Côte d’Azur region.

Le Pen is loath to see the party dilute the anti-establishment image that he nourished for decades. “Madame Le Pen is blowing up her own party,” he said.

Le Pen, 86, has been a fixture in French politics and an integral part of the FN for over the past four decades.

A veteran of the French Indochina War and the war in Algeria, Jean-Marie Le Pen first became involved in politics during the 1950s, before going on to found the FN in 1972.

While his daughter has been credited with the FN’s recent political gains in European parliamentary and local French elections, Jean-Marie Le Pen had built the party from the ground up.

“Le Pen is the man who accomplished the feat of taking the National Front from 0.74 percent of the vote during the presidential election in 1974, to the second round against [former president] Jacques Chirac in 2002,” FN member and political scientist Aymeric Chauprade told FRANCE 24. “We wouldn’t be here without him, we owe him everything.”

In 2011, Jean-Marie Le Pen officially stepped down as the FN’s leader, handing control of the party to his daughter Marine and assuming the role of honorary president.

Inflammatory comments

Since then, Marine Le Pen has worked hard to “detoxify” the FN’s image, which many still consider to be fundamentally racist and anti-Semitic.

She has carefully honed the party’s anti-immigrant and anti-Europe message, while distancing herself from her father’s legacy.

But Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted on numerous occasions for anti-Semitic and racist remarks, has been a constant source of embarrassment for the FN as it tries to break into the political mainstream.

Last year, the party was forced to remove his video blog from its website after he said in a posting that comedian Patrick Bruel, who is Jewish, should be put in an “oven load”.

Most recently, however, he made headlines after repeating past comments describing the Holocaust as a “detail” of history in a television interview on April 2, adding that he believed France’s collaborationist World War II leader, Marshal Philippe Pétain, had been unfairly judged by history.

His remarks, which he once again repeated this week in an interview with far-right weekly Rivarol, has sparked outrage, leading his daughter to issue the statement opposing his political ambitions.

‘Power to cause harm’

But Jean-Marie Le Pen still enjoys a significant amount of support within the FN, raising speculation that the rift with his daughter could hurt the party.

“A lot of supporters began following the party because of or thanks to him, and they identify with him,” said Cécile Alduy, an associate professor at Stanford University and the author of a book on the FN.

The split couldn’t come at a more inconvenient time, with crucial regional elections to be held in December and the country’s next presidential election in 2017.

“He has real power to cause harm both in the press and politically, and above all financially,” said Joël Gombin, an FN expert and political science doctorate.

“There’s no political advantage to a schism. With regional and presidential elections in sight, this is not the moment,” Alduy said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2015-04-10

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