News
Features
ART[icle]S
Creative
Visual
Home » Europe Issue, Features, Viewpoint

Viewpoint – Europe: A Year From the French Presidential Elections… Who’s in the Race? Interview with John Lichfield from The Independent

Submitted by on May 20, 2011 – 1:44 pmNo Comment

French voter card.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the least popular president of recent history, will struggle hard to win a second term at the Elysee Palace. Meanwhile, the opposition party – the ‘Parti Socialiste’ (PS) – is yet undergoing another leadership crisis, with the arrest of one of their leading figures, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who had been the pollsters’ favourite for the next elections. But the race might be rocked by a strongly performing outsider: Marine Le Pen, the newly appointed leader of the far-right ‘Front National’ (FN).

Synchronicity Magazine spoke to John Lichfield, The Independent’s long serving correspondent in France, about the battle to be the next President of France.

Lichfield believes Marine Le Pen will definitely be next year’s ‘Third man’: “Marine Le Pen’s is willing to rehabilitate her party’s image which is not to the FN old guard’s taste, traditionally racist and anti-Semitic. But Marine has successfully met the challenge with public opinion,” he said.

A poll conducted by Harris Interactive in March has suggested that Marine Le Pen would collect 23 per cent  of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections, overcoming both Sarkozy and the PS candidate. Her popularity has  already been tested and endorsed by the voters: her party increased its vote in the local and regional elections,  in 2011 and 2010.

Lichfield said: “The difference between Marine Le Pen and her father is that I don’t think she is a sincere racist – or she hides it very well; Marine is a keen nationalist and a patriot, but moreover an opportunist. To gain popularity, she appears more moderate and pushes aside the racist heritage her father left behind.”

Marine Le Pen’s populism reaches out to a disillusioned working-class, ‘betrayed’ by traditional politics and hit hard by the consequences of the crisis. It is sometimes difficult to disagree with her portrayal of France’s political class: corrupt, elitist and out of touch. With Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest for attempted rape, it’s yet another windfall for her  to denounce the ‘rotten’ politicians.

“But in six, nine months, the DSK case is going to be out of the picture for the elections. The voters will want the candidates to focus on issues that concern them directly,” Lichfield added.

Le Pen’s programme for 2012 follows the traditional anti-European, anti-immigration and pro-defence, pro-security party lines. Le Pen defends the return of the death penalty, the lowering of the criminal legal age to 10 and the withdrawal of family benefits for non-national residents.

Lichfield added: “Marine Le Pen can definitely be at the second round of the presidential elections but be France’s next president? I really don’t think so. There are a lot of anti-FN and anti-Le Pen people in France.’’

In 2002, when Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, got to the second round two million people spontaneously took the streets to demonstrate against the man who called the Nazi gas chambers ‘a detail of history’ and been allegedly involved in torture during the Algerian independence war.

The great challenge for 2012 is on the socialists’ side. Four candidates have emerged already and with DSK out of the picture, each of them have a much greater chance to win the primaries.

For Lichfield, Francois Hollande is the socialists’ best card: “He’s got more qualities than expected. Hollande is a very good speaker and is a temperate, sober candidate at odds with Sarkozy’s luxurious style.”

Sarkozy’s neo-conservative term, with the appointment of a special ‘immigration and national identity’ minister, the burqa ban or the deportations of Afghan refugees have blurred the clear-cut line between far-right and right.

“If there is a Hollande-Le Pen duel, it might be a very difficult choice for traditional centre-right voters.

“The only sure thing is whoever faces Marine Le Pen, – Sarkozy, Hollande, or another socialist leader – that person will become France’s next president.” For the rest, there’s still all to play for.”

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.