Far right's Le Pen beaten, but niece stages upset

National Front leader Marine Le Pen has lost her parliamentary race by a narrow margin of 118 votes. But her niece's surprise victory in a separate contest ensures the Le Pen family will be represented in France's National Assembly.


AFP - France's far-right National Front returned to parliament for the first time since 1998 on Sunday but the anti-immigrant and anti-EU party's leader Marine Le Pen lost her bid for a seat by a handful of votes.

Official results from Sunday's run-off parliamentary vote showed the 22-year-old granddaughter of FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, and lawyer Gilbert Collard were elected in southern constituencies.

But his daughter and political heir Marine Le Pen lost her bid for a seat in a former mining constituency near the northern city of Lille by only 118 votes, with Socialist Philippe Kemel scoring 50.11 percent to Le Pen's 49.89 percent.

Marine Le Pen said she would demand a recount, nonetheless hailing the party's result as "an enormous success."

"We only have reasons to be happy to have achieved spectacular results in dozens of constituencies in the second round," she said. "A reorganisation of (French) political life is under way."

The FN was buoyed by Le Pen's record 18 percent showing in last month's presidential vote and a 13.6 percent result in last Sunday's first round of the parliamentary election -- which she said said confirmed its status as France's "third political force."

Le Pen, a seasoned politician before she took over the party leadership last year, has sought to soften the image of the National Front she inherited from her firebrand father.

But critics say she represents the same old hard-right party in new clothes, playing on voters' sensitivities over France's Muslim population, estimated at up to six million, and playing to nationalism.

President Francois Hollande's Socialists won an absolute majority in the vote, and the two expected FN lawmakers will have little impact on his agenda, but Collard said he would ensure the FN's voters would be represented in the National Assembly.

"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."

Collard also hit out at France's mainstream parties for attempting to prevent the FN from taking seats in the election.

"We are only two (deputies) in parliament, while we represent more than six million voters -- we are there in the name of the Republic, in the name of democracy," he said.

Jean-Marie Le Pen hailed his granddaughter's victory, which will make her the youngest sitting member of the National Assembly.

"The goal was very much achieved. She is even above the estimate I had for her," he said, adding: "A part of me is happy, but another part is grieving. Marine was beaten by very little."

The FN has long been shut out of parliament, though it had 35 deputies in the Assembly between 1986 and 1988 when France experimented with a proportional election system.

Until Sunday, the party had managed to elect only three other lawmakers under the majority system since Le Pen founded it in 1972.

The party has complained that France's first-past-the-post parliamentary election system excludes smaller parties in favour of the country's traditional political heavyweights.

"We must ask ourselves whether this electoral method is democratic," the party's spokesman Florian Philippot said after Sunday's vote.

But though it only won two seats, the FN's impact on this election year was widely felt. Ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and his UMP party shifted increasingly to the right throughout the campaign to woo FN voters.



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