France’s Le Pen: Longshot Political Bid

Christine Ollivier, AP, Feb. 25, 2007

France’s crusader of the far right, who rallied flag-waving followers at a National Front party congress Sunday, is making his sixth long-shot bid for France’s presidency.

The only question is, will voters this time be won over by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s aggressively nationalist, anti-immigrant message?

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Thousands of supporters gathered at the party congress here over the weekend to cheer Le Pen’s pledges to halt immigration, bolster the military, pull France out of NATO, restore the death penalty and slash taxes.

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He trails Nicolas Sarkozy of the ruling conservative party; Segolene Royal, a Socialist; and rising centrist Francois Bayrou.

Little of that seemed to matter to 2,000 supporters here Sunday, who greeted their champion by chanting and waving the tricolor flag.

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Political observers say many mayors—and voters—support him in private but are reluctant to do so publicly.

As for his dismal showing in the polls, Le Pen likes to point out that pollsters failed to predict his startling success in 2002.

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Candidates on left and right, though, are working to avoid a repeat of 2002.

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Before Le Pen’s speech, his daughter Marine, a major force in his campaign, laid out the party’s campaign platform. In a restrained speech free of her father’s emotional rhetoric, she called for an end to immigration.

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Supporters dressed in Napoleonic army uniforms took the stage, as a speaker recalled the days of French glory. The crowd cheered a message of support sent by Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and a far right politician in Italy.

When party members gathered in Lille’s congress hall on Saturday, some 1,000 of their opponents marched through this northern French city denouncing Le Pen’s policies as racist and destructive.

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Even if his presidential bid fizzles, Le Pen remains a force to be reckoned with in France—and beyond. He is a key player in a new far-right faction in the European Parliament that is pushing to limit immigration and resist the EU’s drive for closer integration.

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