Tue, Apr 14, 2015 - Page 7 News List

ANALYSIS: Brutal National Front family feud entrances France

TRUTH OR DARE?Marine Le Pen wants to discuss her father’s role in the party he launched in a meeting this week, but ejecting him could exacerbate political strife

Reuters, PARIS

The daughter accuses the father of political suicide; the father publicly suspects that she would like him dead anyway; and the granddaughter watches in the wings, ready to pick up the pieces.

The feud within the Le Pen dynasty that has ruled France’s National Front (FN) for four decades is teetering between high drama and a low farce that could emerge as the biggest threat yet to the party’s quest for mainstream power.

Party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen’s defense last week of his view that Nazi gas chambers were a mere “detail” of World War II has prompted Marine Le Pen, FN leader since 2011, to demand his role in the party be discussed at a meeting of FN executives on Friday.

The bloodline linking the two, plus the family talent for invective, make this no ordinary political row — to the glee of rivals who have seen the FN gain from the rise in support for populist parties in a Europe just emerging from recession.

[Editor’s note: Jean-Marie Le Pen yesterday said that he would not seek the party’s ticket to stand in regional polls, adding that the best replacement candidate would be his granddaughter, Marion Marechal-Le Pen.]

“A father and daughter are ripping each other to shreds in public — the masters of Greek tragedy could not have staged it better,” veteran leftist Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a political pundit, said last week.

“Let us hope this runs and runs,” he said.

Marine Le Pen has sought to rid the FN of its anti-Semitic image and position it as a Euroskeptic, anti-immigrant, force offering protectionist economic policies to shelter ordinary French from the vagaries of globalization.

At some point, she was always going to have to find a way of silencing her maverick father, who at 86 uses his title of honorary party president to lob regular stinkbombs into the French political debate.

The tougher is question is: How?

The trained lawyer unanimously reconfirmed as FN leader in November last year has a firm grip on the party as she prepares for a 2017 presidential election in which she is tipped to make the second-round runoff, if not win outright.

A survey by pollster Harris Interactive found 99 percent of FN supporters believe she “embodies” party values against 28 percent for her father.

Harris found the French most associate him with the words “racist,” “old” and “troublemaker.”

Moreover, a separate study by Odoxa found nearly 90 percent of FN supporters think it is time for him to quit politics.

Yet ejecting him against his will would be another matter: As a shrewd strategist, Marine Le Pen will recall the brief, but sharp, decline in party fortunes after the messy 1998 split with its former No. 2, Bruno Megret.

In a brief telephone call on Tuesday last week, Jean-Marie Le Pen said: “In times like these, you should expect everything.”

In other words, he will not go quietly.

“It is possible that Marine Le Pen wants me dead and gone — but she should not bank on me going along with that,” he told French radio two days later, saying the party would “implode” if she kicked him out.

While such an implosion is unlikely given the declining personal support for Jean-Marie Le Pen within the party he created in 1972, far-right watchers believe a move to eject him would hurt his daughter’s image with grassroots members vital to her 2017 bid.

“Marine Le Pen would come across as unwilling to recognize her father’s contribution to the party,” analyst Jean-Yves Camus said. “The risk would be that it saps party morale.”

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