Marine Le Pen more popular than President Sarkozy, says French poll

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Niccolo and Donkey
Marine Le Pen more popular than President Sarkozy, says French poll

Guardian UK

Kim Willsher

March 6, 2011


The leader of France's far-right National Front party is more popular with voters than president Nicolas Sarkozy , an opinion poll has revealed.

Marine Le Pen would gain an unprecedented first-round election victory if the French were asked to vote for a new president today. France will go to the polls to elect a new president in May next year, but the results of the survey, published in Sunday's Le Parisien newspaper and based on an opinion poll by the Harris Institute, come at a time when Sarkozy's popularity continues to plummet.

The findings have revived the spectre of 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen – Marine's father – knocked socialist candidate Lionel Jospin from the country's opposition out of the presidential race in the first round before losing to Jacques Chirac.

The Le Parisien poll found that 42-year-old Le Pen, who took control of the National Front in January, would obtain 23 per cent of the vote in the first round of any poll if it were held now. Sarkozy would get 21 per cent. Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry, who has not announced her intention to stand, would also get 21 per cent.

The survey does not give the level of support for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, who is expected to declare his intention to represent the socialists in the May 2012 vote and is widely believed to stand more of a chance than Aubry.

Since Le Pen, a mother of three, assumed control of the French National Front it has softened its traditional revisionist line on the Holocaust and antisemitism and appears to be targeting France's large Muslim community.

After the results of the poll were announced, Le Pen said they were "an encouragement to continue to work and present our project to the French". Speaking during a visit to the northern city of Lille, Le Pen added that French people were "waking up".

"The French want a different kind of politics, they would like to have a proper choice in the second round [of the presidential elections]: the choice between a national project and a global project as represented either by Nicolas Sarkozy, either by Dominique Strauss-Kahn or by Martine Aubry."

Le Pen said she was convinced Sarkozy – who is hoping to win over rightwing voters with a crackdown on immigration and a debate on "Islam in France" – had lost the support of the French people.

"There's a trend that makes me think that Nicolas Sarkozy is going to lose the presidential elections. I don't think he can climb back up. He represents such a disappointment and rejection by French people that I think he's already out of the second round."
Niccolo and Donkey
They can't keep her down

The Economist

March 17, 2011


THE setting was as carefully chosen as her words. Marine Le Pen, the new leader of France’s National Front, dropped in to visit an immigrant-detention centre on the Italian island of Lampedusa this week, to alert the French to the “waves of immigration” flooding in from the Arab world. But she mixed hard talk with a disarming air of compassion. “If I listened only to my heart, of course I would let you board my boat,” she declared. “But my boat is too fragile and, if I take you, my boat will sink…Europe does not have the capacity to welcome all these illegals.” The moment captured all that makes Ms Le Pen such a threat: an eye for a stunt, an appeal to populist fears, and above all a knack for dressing up intolerance as common sense.


A year before France’s presidential election, the woman who only recently stepped out of the shadow of her father, Jean-Marie, is rocking the political establishment. Last week, when a poll showed that Ms Le Pen would beat President Nicolas Sarkozy into the second-round run-off, his aides tried to dismiss it as an outlier. But since then other polls have found the same. Ms Le Pen could squeeze out the unpopular Mr Sarkozy with support of just 19%, according to one poll. Her best first-round score so far is a hefty 24% (see chart).

Although voting is still a year away, these polls are exercising many French people for a simple reason: they have already lived through the shock of electing the National Front into the second round. In 2002 Jean-Marie Le Pen, a blustering former paratrooper, beat the Socialists’ candidate, Lionel Jospin, into the run-off against Jacques Chirac. Ms Le Pen stands virtually no chance of winning in 2012. But she could cause trouble by pushing out one of the mainstream candidates in the first round, as her father did. And this time, both the left and the right are vulnerable.

Ms Le Pen’s ascension is all the more remarkable given the nature of the National Front. She is a woman in a party with a strong macho current. She is divorced, in a far-right milieu with traditional Catholic overtones. She is young, at 42, in a movement that draws heavily on older voters. Yet this lawyer and member of the European Parliament seems to be turning all this to her advantage, rejuvenating the Front and ridding it of the jackbooted imagery that clung to her father. Whereas Jean-Marie thundered about losing Algeria and dismissed the gas chambers as a “detail” of history, his daughter has called the Holocaust “the height of barbarity”. With her courteous demeanour and tempered vocabulary, she is single-handedly decontaminating the National Front brand.

What Ms Le Pen shares with her father is an anti-establishment and anti-European appeal to ordinary folk turned off by the cronyism of the left and the right. In that she may be boosted by Saif al-Islam Qaddafi’s claim this week that his father’s regime helped finance Mr Sarkozy’s election campaign. (The Elysée denied the claim, and Mr Qaddafi provided absolutely no evidence, though said he would.)

Ms Le Pen wants to withdraw France from the euro, and to re-erect border controls with neighbouring countries. Yet she has deftly recast her father’s more toxic talk about immigration and Islam. Although she still wants to end all immigration, give French nationals preference for jobs and bring back the death penalty, out has gone the obnoxious xenophobic tone. Instead she casts herself as the defender of cherished French principles: laïcité (secularism) and women’s rights. When she compares Muslims who pray in French streets to the Nazi occupation, she says this is not a gesture against Islam but a secular effort to keep religion out of public space. Who, she seems to say, could disagree?

Fewer and fewer people, it appears. One poll this week, by TNS Sofres, found that 38% of respondents think of the National Front as a party of the patriotic, traditional right (rather than the extremist, xenophobic variety), up from 28% a few years ago. Mr Sarkozy has said his party will fire any candidate who tries to make a local electoral pact with the Front. Even so, in two-round elections in French cantons, on March 20th and 27th, the National Front could make it into the second round in up to 200 of the 2,000-odd constituencies, not only in the south, its traditional base, but in the old industrial towns of the north and rural districts, too. No longer just a party of protest, the Front is seeking to govern.

What can mainstream politicians do? In the past Mr Sarkozy reached out to far-right voters with coded talk about immigration, declaring that “if anybody doesn’t like France, they should leave”. In 2007 this ate into Mr Le Pen’s vote, keeping him out of the run-off. In office, Mr Sarkozy has kept at it, creating a (short-lived) ministry of national identity, tightening immigration and citizenship laws, banning the burqa and closing Roma camps.

This approach seems to have reached its limits. Instead of robbing the far right of votes, Mr Sarkozy appears now to be handing them support. Take a plan for a “national debate” on laïcité in France on April 5th. Just like yet another debate on “national identity” two years ago, it looks more like an electoral stunt than a serious effort to reflect on the place of Islam in France. His own voters sense opportunism. Muslims feel stigmatised. Mr Sarkozy’s “diversity” adviser, Abderrahmane Dahmane, was fired last week after calling on Muslims not to renew their membership of the ruling party unless the debate was cancelled. Claude Guéant, the interior minister, had to go to the Paris Mosque this week to calm matters. Meanwhile the National Front is quietly reaping the benefit.

Mr Sarkozy is in a corner. If he avoids the subject, he leaves the door open for the National Front. If he keeps stirring it up, he does their work for them. As for the Socialists, who ought to be exploiting Mr Sarkozy’s unpopularity, they look just as exposed and unprepared. In the past François Mitterrand, a Socialist president, relied on the National Front to split the right. But working-class voters are deserting today’s bourgeois Socialist Party for the Front as much as they are Mr Sarkozy’s party. And the Socialists do not yet have a nominee for 2012. There are at least four serious potential candidates for this autumn’s primary, among them Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF. This week he appeared in a fly-on-the-wall television documentary to say that he had made up his mind as to whether to run…but would not reveal his decision until July.
Niccolo and Donkey
Marine Le Pen emerges from father's shadow

Guardian UK

Angelique Chrisafis

March 21, 2011


Niccolo and Donkey
Sarkozy woos far right as divisions grow deeper within his party

Niccolo and Donkey
Le Pen, mightier than the sword?

The Economist

May 5, 2011


UP CLOSE, the most unnerving thing about Marine Le Pen is not her obsession with Islam, her populism or her divisive politics—but the way she oozes charm. With a ready laugh and unaffected manner, this steely politician deflects awkward questions with an easy grace that makes her a rarity in French politics. The newish leader of the far-right National Front is an intriguing study in how to make extremist politics marketable—and in doing so, perhaps to reshape French party politics.

In the short run, Ms Le Pen wants to decontaminate the National Front, stripping it of the skin-headed image it had under her father, Jean-Marie. At the party’s annual May 1st rally, she surrounded herself with fresh-faced young women in jeans and T-shirts. Her father, a former paratrooper, perfected a line in anti-Semitic and xenophobic outrage. She shares much of his programme, such as support for the death penalty and job preference for French nationals. But she has junked the anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi sidekicks in favour of a subtler tone. “When I talk about the immigration problem, I don’t talk out of hate, or xenophobia, or Islamophobia, or fear,” she insists, but pragmatism. “We cannot afford to let everybody in.”

By turns funny and caustic, with a fine sense of oratory, Ms Le Pen’s skill is to defend her ideas with principles that all voters share. She is “not against Islam”, she claims, but against the “Islamification” of society that breaches France’s principle of laïcité (secularism). “I don’t believe that Islam is incompatible with Western values,” she says. “But sharia law is, and that’s what fundamentalists want to impose in France.” All of this is done with an unspoken appeal to common sense. Look at me, she seems to say, an ordinary divorced mother trying to bring up my kids at a tough time, how could you disagree?

Ms Le Pen is shaking the French establishment. Repeated polls suggest that she may well repeat her father’s feat in 2002 by securing a place in the run-off at next year’s presidential election. If she does, she will not win, but she could take almost a third of the votes. In any case, she will cause trouble by robbing support from both left and right, creating huge uncertainty ahead of 2012. In the long run, she has set her sights even higher: she wants to overturn party alignments and transform the National Front from a party of protest into a future party of government.

Across Europe, traditional divisions between left and right have blurred, Ms Le Pen argues, giving way to a new fracture between those who believe in globalisation, international governance and open borders, and those who believe in the primacy of the nation. In her eyes President Nicolas Sarkozy and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF and a likely Socialist candidate, are “interchangeable”: standard-bearers for a globalised world view. By contrast, she wants a return to national sovereignty, a withdrawal from the euro (“before it collapses”) and NATO (“submission to America”), the return of border controls and an unapologetic protectionist policy to “re-industrialise France”.

If Mr Sarkozy loses in 2012, Ms Le Pen hopes for an “implosion” of his party, and a “recomposition” of politics. The aim is to shed the far-right label and turn the National Front into a majority party with support across the spectrum. It would draw not only on anti-immigrant feeling but on latent French Euroscepticism and disillusion with the elite. This might be dismissed as fanciful dreaming by an untried leader. Yet polls show that she has become the most popular choice for working-class voters and is winning support among the young and middle-class, not ashamed to support her as they were her father.

Even some opponents acknowledge her skills. “We can see clearly where she is going,” says Manuel Valls, a Socialist on his party’s modernising wing. “She wants to create a new party on the right, and we on the left might find that harder to deal with.” Nonna Mayer, at Sciences-Po university, says “she is here to stay. She has already managed to make the party appear more respectable. The question is whether she can now make it credible.”

For under scrutiny, many of Ms Le Pen’s ideas, when not toxic, are deeply flawed. France cannot compete with China on cost, she says, so better to put up borders, go for a competitive devaluation and start building factories at home again. She dismisses worries about the colossal cost of protectionism or of debt-servicing with a devalued currency as scaremongering. For now, such details have yet to spoil the seductive simplicity of her message. And this will keep her a highly disruptive figure in the run-up to 2012 and beyond.