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How Marine Le Pen challenged her father’s legacy. The Front National party evolution over time

The French Front National (FN) has gone, over the last twenty years, from a rejection option of the other parties to an authentic election contender. Here’s how the party evolved over time.

A research by Ifop, which compared surveys of FN voters in 1997 and 2017, reveals that the share of people putting their vote on the Le Pen-led party as an act of protest to the political status quo has significantly reduced, from 84% twenty years ago to 60% before this year’s presidential election.

In 1997, the party was largely seen as ‘racist’ even by the majority of its supporters, but the prevalence of this opinion has fallen 25 percentage points since Marine Le Pen took over the helm from her father, Jean-Marie, suggesting that her attempts to clean up the party’s image are working, pulling in voters from a much wider spectrum of French society, reports.


Infographic: The Changing Face of Le Pen's Front National | Statista

Founded in 1972, on the 5th of October, by Jean-Marie Le Pen, to unify a variety of French nationalist movements of the time, the French Front National, Europe’s oldest far-right political party, was considered by many to be the prototype of the modern radical right party in Europe, according to policy network. As an anti-European Union party, the FN has opposed the European Union since its creation. While for its first ten years the party struggled as a marginal force, since 1984 it has been the major force of French nationalism.

The party’s first leader, who had five attempts to become president of France and even managed to reach to the second round in the 21 April 2002 presidential election, has maintained his position in the party from its start until his resignation in 2011. Marine Le Pen, his daughter, was then elected the party’s leader, but also the one who expelled him from the party on 20 August 2015 after his controversial statements, such as his repeated view that the Holocaust was “a detail of history”.

French presidential elections 2017: “Madame Frexit”. What will France look like if Marine Le Pen wins the elections

Under the helm of Jean-Marie Le Pen, FN campaigned on a law-and-order platform of zero tolerance, harsher sentencing, increased prison capacity, and a referendum on re-introducing the death penalty, the party’s leader advocating also immigration restrictions, raising incentives for homemakers, and euroscepticism. His controversial speeches and his integration into public life have made him a figure who polarizes opinion, considered as the “Devil of the Republic” among his opponents.

Despite the fact that in 2002, Le Pen’s political party National Front described itself as mainstream conservative, non-partisan observers largely agreed in defining it as a far right or ultra-nationalist party. Thus, almost all French political parties called for their supporters to vote against Le Pen, including the Socialists and many that had previously been opposed to Jacques Chirac.


Thus, Chirac went on to win the biggest landslide in a French presidential election, winning over 82% of the vote, greater even than that of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the first elected by direct ballot, who received, on 10 December 1848, 74,4% of the votes.

Since taking over the FN, Marine Le Pen has tried to tone down her party’s extreme right-wing views and embarrassing anti-Semetic history. Thus, the FN has changed considerably since its foundation, as it has pursued the principles of modernization and pragmatism, adapting to the changing political climate. At the same time, its message has increasingly influenced mainstream political parties, although the FN too has moved somewhat closer towards the centre-right.

But the party didn’t give up to its ideology on immigration, as the party opposed to it even in recent years, focusing particularly on Muslim immigration from Africa and the Middle East. Following the Arab Spring (2011) rebellions in several countries, Marine Le Pen has been campaigning on halting the migration of Tunisian and Libyan immigrants to Europe.

Representatives of Front National have repeatedly connected immigration to Islamism and terrorism. In 2011, Marine Le Pen warned that wearing full face veils is “the tip of the iceberg” of Islamization of French culture.

After the brutal Charlie Hebdo attack of January 2015, Marine Le Pen launched an assault on Islamist terrorism, which she infamously called “a cancer on Islam”.

Furthermore, in November 2015, the month in which the Bataclan attack took place, Front National stated as its goal to have a net legal immigration rate (immigrants minus emigrants) of 10,000 in France per year, 14 times lower than the yearly net immigration rate if one reckons only people born abroad from non-French parents.

FN maintained the anti-European Union ideology, praising British people for standing up to the “totalitarian EU, that prison of people” and vowing that Frexit is next.

On the other hand, Marine Le Pen rescinded the party’s traditional support for the death penalty with her 2017 campaign launch, instead announcing support for imprisonment “in perpetuity” for the “worst crimes” in February 2017.

The history repeats? People urged to prevent Le Pen “risk”

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will be facing off in the second round, after the figures from the Interior Ministry with 96 percent of votes counted revealed that Macron had 24.01 percent of the votes, while Le Pen won 21.30 percent of the votes, final results from the interior ministry.

Although Marine Le Pen managed to reach the second tour of French elections, like her father she could loose the final voting, given that, all polls see her defeated by Emmanuel Macron. A Harris survey taken on Sunday saw Macron winning the runoff by 64 percent to 36, and an Ipsos/Sopra Steria poll gave a similar result, while Opinionway poll sees centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron beating far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in run-off vote by 61 percent to 39 percent.

Defeated Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and defeated right-wing candidate Francois Fillon all urged voters to rally behind Macron in the second round.

Also, French President Francois Hollande called on voters to back centrist Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the presidential election, warning of dangerous consequences if far-right candidate Marine Le Pen were to win.

“The presence of the far-right in the second round is a risk for the country,” Hollande said in a televised address.

“What is at stake is France’s make-up, its unity, its membership of Europe and its place in the world.”

He said he would vote for his former economy minister, because he was best placed to unite the people of France.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman hailed Macron’s success, tweeting: “Good that @EmmanuelMacron succeeded with his policy for a strong EU and social market economy. Wishing him all the best for the next two weeks.”

Madeline Gorthon