Marine Le Pen, a popular nationalist, anti-EU, anti-immigration leader has made it through to the second round of the French presidential election. Le Pen, from the far-right Front National, had reportedly secured 21.6 percent of the vote share. According to various media reports, Le Pen has been criticised by economists, businessmen, and has even been declared as ‘public enemy number one’ by her rivals. Yet, Le Pen, for the first time in six years of her control of the party, is closer to the presidency as ever. Le Pen will be up against an independent centrist leader Emmanuel Macron who at just 39 years of age had managed to rise at the zenith without holding any prior elected office. Le Pen, is reportedly a popular polarising leader now, despite being accused of divisive bigotry, neo-fascism fueled by clandestine support from Russia.
Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the party, Front National. Her father was known for his statements ‘denying’ the holocaust and was accused of inciting religious hatred. After his ouster, Le Pen eclipsed the legacy and taint of her father and single-handedly changed the party politics and made it popular. She softened the rhetoric of the Front National offering more measured narratives. However, despite burnishing the National Front’s image, her party was not supported by French banks which made her turn to Russia, which is now a major bone of contention, according to European media reports. The question is, will Vladimir Putin have a sympathetic counterpart in the Elysee Palace? Interestingly, while being known for her anti-immigration laws, she used to be an immigration lawyer. Le Pen is a nationalist and has been constantly taking an anti-EU and anti-immigration stand in France. While being a far-right conservation she is not much conservative when it comes to social issues which has made her a popular leader. Her stand for gay marriage movement and women’s right to abortion has also got her support from many liberals too. Le Pen portrays herself as a patriotic saviour who views France engulfed by radical Islamism, high finance predations and technocrats from Brussels.
Le Pen’s party has no experience of government, so it is hard to say what lies in the future of France but one thing is for sure, that is there will be fewer foreigners in the most visited country in the world. Her party is in support for renegotiations regarding France’s membership in the European Union and the talks fail, there is a high chance that France will go for a Brexit-like referendum.
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Le Pen’s and Macron’s rise to the top, marks the end of a French political era which was defined by two big parties, Les Republicains and the Socialists. Meanwhile, other candidates in the French presidential elections, Francois Fillon (Conservative ) garnered just about 20 percent of the vote share, Jean-Luc Melenchon (far-left) is placed on 19.5 percent, Benoit Hamon (socialist) is at a surprisingly low 6.3 percent.
While the first round of elections has suggested a close encounter between the two, according to polls, it has been forecasted that on May 7, Macron will beat Le Pen in a 60-40 percentage ratio. Many believe that it is better to join ‘anyone but the Le Pen camp’. After the first round, Le Pen addressed her fans in Henin-Baumont and said that the initial hurdle has been overcome. She had reportedly added that the results are historic and the French civilisation can finally survive. Yet, while she was popular earlier, Macron’s policies have appealed not only to the masses but also several leaders. Many in Europe do not support Le Pen’s rhetoric of right-wing populism, anti-EU and right wing radicalism. Yet, these are the same things which spelt the rise and rise of US President Donald Trump who has surprised everyone despite his xenophobic and openly racist stance.
While polls may suggest otherwise, Le Pen will not lose hope till the results of the second round come in. The fact that this year was one of the most open elections in French history is in itself an indication towards that fact.
Meanwhile, Trump has showered open praises for Le Pen and it is not surprising as she has been running a campaign based on anti-Muslim, anti-immigration and white supremacy theories. What is interesting, however, is that Le Pen is a pro-Putin candidate, and Trump, despite the recent US-Russia rifts has not been hesitant in his support. Le Pen, in turn, has been subtle in her praise for Trump but has openly seemed smitten by Putin and the Russian banks. Recently, she made international headlines when she became the only French president to have met Putin in Moscow. Le Pen, as a matter of fact, has been so against the EU that she has reportedly threatened to pull France out of NATO, which is an organisation to stop the powers of Russian military. She has also criticised the sanctions by EU on Russia for Crimea annexation.