United Front as Le Pen's daughter is new leader
Published 17/01/2011 | 05:00
France's far-right National Front party elected the daughter of its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as its new leader last night.
Marine Le Pen says she wants to broaden the appeal of a party known best for its anti-immigration, anti-Islam platform.
Mr Le Pen, who has been convicted for playing down the Holocaust, left the leadership of the party he created 38 years ago by dropping an anti-Semitic reference about a journalist at a weekend party gathering.
Ms Le Pen (42) won slightly more than two-thirds of the vote in an election at a National Front convention -- easily beating the other candidate, longtime party number two, Bruno Gollnisch.
Her victory, which had been expected, means she is likely to represent the party in the 2012 presidential race.
With characteristic pique, her 82-year-old father took aim yesterday at a reporter from France-24 television who said that he had been roughed up by security staff at the convention the night before.
"The person in question believed it was necessary to say that it was because he was Jewish that he was thrown out. That couldn't be seen either on his (press) card or on his nose -- if I dare say it," said Mr Le Pen.
Mr Le Pen hit his political peak by defeating the Socialist prime minister and others to reach the 2002 presidential election run-off. The National Front leader lost to Jacques Chirac, as mainstream parties of left and right united to defeat Le Pen.
A divorced mother of three, Marine Le Pen is widely seen as the kinder, gentler face of a party known for its extreme stances.
"I refuse to accept as inevitable the fact that we have been demonised . . . consigned to the edge of political life and excluded from the democratic field," she said.
Ms Le Pen's attempts to widen the base have sowed discord within the party.
"Marine has charm, charisma, she looks great on TV -- but it's not enough," said party member Anne-Marie Lacalmette, saying she didn't believe Ms Le Pen was up to the job. "I am sad. I am very sad."
"Marine will allow us to reach another electorate," said another party supporter, Remi Carillon.
Meanwhile, in Marseille, a Mediterranean port city that is home to many French citizens with family heritage in North Africa, some said they regretted the handover from father to daughter.
"We all are well aware of her father's racist ideas about foreigners, Arabs and religious beliefs," said Jamel Khebir, looking to the 2012 elections. "If people vote for her, it will lead to chaos in France."