Marine Le Pen, the far-right French presidential candidate, was forcefully challenged when she visited the French West Indies over the weekend (26-27 March). EURACTIV France reports.
The Rassemblement National candidate is not new to such confrontations – violent clashes have occurred at points during previous election campaigns of both her and her father, far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen.
However, the presidential hopeful had since changed her message: her modus operandi is no longer about dividing opinions, but bringing people together. The Rassemblement National, and its predecessor, the Front National, have in recent years undertaken a project of “de-demonisation”, leading to more favourable support from the French public.
This process has been boosted by the commentary of far-right polemicist Éric Zemmour, who described Le Pen as a “socialist in economics”. According to him, Le Pen is too measured to win this presidential election, which he says would require radical responses in terms of immigration and identity.
Le Pen has tried to distance herself from the “extreme right” label, preferring instead the identity of patriotism or nationalism, defined in opposition to globalism her party says is pedalled by President Emmanuel Macron.
The violent protests that used to mark her travels have gradually disappeared, contributing to a smoother, more cautious and consensual political image.
In the last presidential elections, she challenged Macron in the second round, and is positioning herself to do the same for the upcoming elections round in April.
However – her latest trip to the French West Indies has once again brought to the fore the tensions the Le Pens used to face in the past.
This has proven to many that Le Pen is still a Le Pen and that she remains linked to her family tradition, solidly anchored in the great house of the extreme right in Europe.
On the Sainte-Anne market on the island of Basse-Terre, chants from her supporters calling “Marine president!” were met with “racists out!” and the sound of pans.
The presidential candidate seemed unperturbed, however. Following an attempted assault by Guadeloupean independence activists during the recording of an interview on Saturday, Le Pen said: “if the objective was to intimidate me, it failed”.
The candidate was then exfiltrated by her bodyguards, and the exchange with the journalists of national station France 3 was cancelled.
“Shocked” by the images, Macron offered support to his far-right competitor, whom he said was the victim of a “totally unacceptable scene”.
Rassemblement National’s interim president, Jordan Bardella, blamed Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. Faced with “an extreme left that is rotting our democracy” the minister “should ensure the security of the presidential candidates,” Bardella told LCI on Sunday.
Moreover, the incidents have not prevented Le Pen from doubling her ratings in Guadeloupe.
Without ever crossing the fourth place in the first round, in 2012, she collected just over 5% in the country. Five years later, in 2017, her party exceeded 13% of the votes, and gathered just under 25% in the second round.
For the Rassemblement National, the record in Guadeloupe was set during the 2019 European elections. With more than 23.5% of the vote, Le Pen’s party even scored five points above the Renaissance list of the presidential majority, but with an extremely low turnout, below 15%.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]
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