Marine Le Pen

Far-right leader moves party from fringe to spotlight

[] National Front leader Marine Le Pen, 48, could become France's first far-right president since World War II.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen, 48, could become France's first far-right president since World War II.

PARIS • Ms Marine Le Pen has brought the National Front from fringe status into the political spotlight and is a real contender to be France's first woman president and its first far-right leader since World War II.

Since taking the helm in 2011, Ms Le Pen, 48, has sought to rid the party of the anti-Semitic image it acquired under the nearly 40-year leadership of her father Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The twice-divorced mother of three has positioned the party instead as an anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic force offering protectionist policies to shelter French workers from globalisation.

Lenders have refused to bankroll her run for the presidency, putting her at a financial disadvantage to other candidates.

Living and breathing politics from the time she was young, Ms Le Pen has said her childhood was deeply marked by the explosion of a bomb that destroyed the family apartment on Nov 2, 1976, when she was eight years old, in an attempt to assassinate her father. The perpetrators were never caught.

 
 
 
 
 

Family life for the Le Pens was unconventional by the standards of bourgeois France. The parents lived separately from their three daughters and were often away travelling, sailing, partying or campaigning.

When Ms Le Pen was 16, her mother left with a lover and cut off contact with her daughter for 15 years. Ms Le Pen stayed on with her father as her parents' bitter, public divorce played out - her mother even posed naked in the French edition of Playboy.

She entered politics by joining her father's party at 18. In 1998, she abandoned her law career to provide legal advice to the party and was first elected to political office that year as a regional councillor in northern France.

She later had the same role in the Paris region before returning to the northern rust belt in 2010. She has also been a member of the European Parliament since 2004.

Ms Le Pen took over the party leadership with her father's blessing in 2011 and pushed ahead with her plans to make the party electable. She later had her father expelled from the party over his views in 2015.

Polls have consistently shown Ms Le Pen as one of the favourites to get through the first round of the presidential election next Sunday and contest the May 7 run-off.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2017, with the headline 'Far-right leader moves party from fringe to spotlight'. Print Edition | Subscribe