France's National Front: Will Marine Le Pen take the reins?
Founder Jean-Marie Le Pen is silent on who will next lead the National Front party: Marine Le Pen, his populist daughter, or Bruno Gollnisch, his 'purist' right-hand man.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, who heads France's National Front party, has long peppered politics with right-wing bons mots. (Nazi occupation was "not especially inhumane," he once said.) Now his daughter, Marine Le Pen, is showing that she, too, can make headlines.Skip to next paragraph
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She called on President Nicolas Sarkozy to step down if implicated in a bribery case dating to 1995. She recently knocked France's racially diverse World Cup soccer team: "I don't see myself represented by this France team."
And after police on June 15 banned a provocative "pork sausage and booze" party that was to be held in a heavily Arab-Muslim quarter of Paris, Ms. Le Pen said, "the French state has capitulated once again."
Succession campaign in full swing
Her higher visibility comes as a National Front succession campaign is in full swing. The senior Le Pen is set to retire as champion of a proud France that, he's long said, is being invaded and cheated by foreign hordes, Brussels bureaucrats, and globalization. He also decries what he calls excessive Jewish influence in the media.
An often-vicious party fight is under way between Ms. Le Pen and Bruno Gollnisch, Mr. Le Pen's stalwart right-hand man. The battle is over the face and direction of the far right, whose influence here has always outweighed its numbers.
Ms. Le Pen, tall, blond, and articulate, wants to move the Front away from the splendid isolation of its 5 to 12 percent vote and appeal to a mainstream that has also moved right. She has rebuffed her dad's anti-Semitism and speaks inclusively of gays and feminists – while nourishing an anti-immigrant, antiburqa, anti-Islam line that plays to a silent majority.
Mr. Gollnisch, serious, gray-haired, a professor and ultranationalist who speaks Japanese and Malay and is deeply loyal to Mr. Le Pen, wants the party to remain a haven for fellow travelers. His anti-Semitism is intact; a 2004 speech saying Holocaust facts are a "dispute of history" landed him in court.
Most French think the daughter, with her populist touch, will win. But in party ranks, Gollnisch is seen as a standard-bearer who put in time and hard work. He told Le Figaro newspaper: "I want … to defend the French identity, which appears more threatened than ever."
"She's a pure product of her father, and she's got the leader's name. That has weight," says Arun Kapil of the American University in Paris. "But to the card-carrying party member, Gollnisch has legitimacy. He goes way back to the '70s."
He adds, "If Marine wins, the Front national has a chance to break out … if Gollnisch wins, they retreat to 2 percent."