Le Pen tunes into untapped women power

PARIS • French women are starting to picture their next president as a divorced mother of three.

The anti-euro, anti-immigrant candidate Marine Le Pen has been playing up her gender as she seeks to convert a likely April 23 first- round victory into an overall majority in the run-off on May 7 - and it is paying off.

The 48-year-old National Front leader has already rallied some two million additional female voters to her cause since her last run for president in 2012 and she is betting more will follow."These women often abstain and now they are backing Le Pen to protect their jobs and their security," said Ms Nonna Meyer, a researcher at the Sciences Po institute in Paris who has studied the National Front for 25 years.

While women make up just over half of the electorate in France, they are far less likely to turn out to vote than men, offering a well of untapped support for the candidate who manages to tune into their concerns.

Ms Le Pen's pitch weaves together concerns about immigration, security, and the economic decline of many white French communities into a potent populist brew that borrows freely from US President Donald Trump, blaming "the elite" for the problems of ordinary voters.

As well as the surge of support from women, surveys show she has gained support among less-educated voters, rural communities and those in lower-paid jobs. She has doubled her poll scores among retirees, though she still lags behind Republican candidate Francois Fillon.

Meanwhile, French anti-graft police yesterday questioned two aides to the far-right candidate over suspicions that her party defrauded the European Parliament of about €340,000 (S$507,000).

A source in Ms Le Pen's party confirmed that her bodyguard Thierry Legier and her personal assistant Catherine Griset were questioned in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris where the party has its headquarters, as part of a probe that was launched in December.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2017, with the headline 'Le Pen tunes into untapped women power'. Print Edition | Subscribe