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Le Pen daughter bids to keep far-right helm in the family

As France's far right adjusts to the news that its leader Jean-Marie Le Pen (pictured, right) is to retire, his daughter Marine (left) has presented the party with the very real possibility of a Le Pen dynasty by throwing her hat into the ring.


Marine Le Pen, a rising star in the far-right National Front (FN) and an accomplished media operator, confirmed her intention to run for the leadership of the party Tuesday on France 2 television. If successful, she is widely expected to run in the 2012 French presidential election.

Le Pen is the daughter of veteran far-right politician and current FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Her father, who once described the Holocaust as a "detail of history", shot  to international prominence after he pulled off a shock result in the 2002 presidential election, reaching the second round at the expense of centre-left candidate Lionel Jospin. He announced his much mooted decision to retire last week, setting the stage for a leadership vote in January 2011. With his daughter's decision to run, the FN is now facing the very real possibility of a Le Pen dynasty.

Yet, Le Pen has been at pains to stress that she is politically different from her father. Announcing her candidacy for the party leadership, she said, “I’m extremely passionate about the social aspects of the National Front, which I think deserve more visibility”. She added that she wanted to “bring the FN out of the political fringes” and “increase the party’s appeal among voters who do not traditionally identify themselves with the right.”

'Old' vs 'new' right

Jérôme Jamin, a political analyst at the University of Liège in Belgium, explained to FRANCE24 that father and daughter embody the difference between the “old” right and the “new” right. The old right, he said, focuses on anti-immigration and xenophobic policies, whereas the “new” right focuses on Islamophobia and French sovereignty within the EU. 

Jamin argues that the key choice now facing FN voters hinges on the divide between "old" and "new" right. Across Europe the “new” far-right agenda has proved affective at the polls, but the question remains whether the old guard of the FN is ready to fully commit to this path. They may be tempted to rally behind the party's vice-president Bruno Gollnisch, who is expected to challenge Le Pen for the party leadership.

Gollnisch, a French academic and currently a member of the European Parliament, is a highly controversial figure in France due to his widely condemned remarks on the Holocaust and the Second World War. In 2004 he declared: “I do not question the existence of concentration camps but historians should discuss the number of deaths. As to the existence of gas chambers, it is up to historians to speak their minds.”

Islamophobia, women's rights and a social agenda

In order to beat her rival, Le Pen will need to secure the backing of a party with a notoriously macho reputation. But Jamin says this is unlikely to derail her bid. “It would have been an issue ten or 15 years ago," he said. "But times have changed, even for the far right."

A hugely successful campaign for recent regional elections has provided a welcome boost for Le Pen's credentials as future party leader. Her emphasis on jobs and the economy proved particularly attractive in her stronghold of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, a region blighted by industrial decline.

The scion of the Le Pen dynasty is seen by many as a moderniser and the softer face of the National Front. She performs well in TV interviews and has so far proved to be a somewhat less controversial figure than her father in terms of inflammatory remarks.

Jamin says that Le Pen junior is “more mainstream, but also more manipulative”. Nowhere is this more evident than in her ability to render the FN's anti-Islamic rhetoric more palatable to voters by using women’s rights – which have never been high on the party's agenda – to bash Islam.

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