FRANCE: Far-right National Front party elects Marine Le Pen replacing her father Jean-Marie Le PenRecord ID: 1500947
- Title: FRANCE: Far-right National Front party elects Marine Le Pen replacing her father Jean-Marie Le Pen
- Date: 17th January 2011
- Summary: TOURS, FRANCE (JANUARY 16, 2011) REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF BUILDING WHERE NATIONAL FRONT PARTY CONGRESS IS TAKING PLACE NATIONAL FRONT POSTER
- Embargoed: 1st February 2011 04:10
- Location: France, France
- Country: France
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVABRYAE210V1X7A5A4K3XDBI6FE
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: France's far-right National Front has a new face: Marine Le Pen.
She was elected as party chief, taking over from her 82-year-old father Jean-Marie Le Pen, and clears the way for her to mount a presidential bid.
The party her father founded in 1972 made the official announcement of Marine Le Pen's win on Sunday (January 16), but the news of the Friday vote leaked early and several sources confirmed a clear victory for daughter Marine over the other main contender, Bruno Gollnisch.
The younger Le Pen won the leadership contest with just over 67 percent of the votes, way ahead of rival Bruno Gollnisch.
She started her speech by praising her father, saying: "I have been, during 42 years, the privileged witness of this fight, I saw his steadfastness, his noble soul, perseverance, the vision and sometimes the bravery with which he took on the leadership of the National Front. All those qualities allow me to say today that he has undoubtedly put himself into history."
While polls suggest most French people strongly oppose the National Front, the party sent tremors through the country in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen unexpectedly reached a second-round runoff against Jacques Chirac in the presidential election.
Le Pen failed in all five of his presidential bids over nearly 40 years, but the party's ability to win a steady 15 percent of the vote gives it an influence in political debate.
Marine Le Pen is seen as a fresh, somewhat less abrasive face for the hard-right party which has won her points in opinion polls, and her popularity suggests she could eat into the ruling centre-right UMP party's vote in the spring 2012 election.
"Marine means the possibility for us to show ourselves, at last, our true face. A sane face, we can get rid of all the devilish qualifiers that we had under Jean-Marie Le Pen and it shows at last what really is the Front, a people's party, a patriotic party, of people who love their country and mankind," said National Front party member Julien Rochety.
Although, Marine Le Pen offered a new face, the topics of discussion were far from new -- focussing on immigration, national identity and security.
"In our country, which has suffered from religious wars over several centuries, no religion should step on the public space. Faith has to remain a strictly private matter and its expression should not be the subject of any provocation," she said, referring to recent scenes of people praying in the streets because of a lack of space in some French mosques.
President Nicolas Sarkozy is widely expected to run for re-election next year in a tough battle against a resurgent left.
Polls rank him as one of France's most unpopular presidents, his ratings dipping below 30 percent in some surveys last year as even mainstream conservative voters grew tired of economic gloom, government scandals, pension reform and perceptions of a flashy, unpredictable leader.
Polls also show that Marine Le Pen could win 12-14 percent in a first-round presidential vote next year and that two in five UMP supporters would back some kind of party alliance.
On the day of the announcement of her leadership win, her father told reporters: "I am very satisfied and she deserves it."
Across Europe, hard-right parties have been picking up support as voters, disillusioned with their governments and worried about their jobs at a time of economic austerity, are turning to populist parties.
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