Fresh-Faced Star of France’s Far Right Is Candidate of Steel

Elaine Ganley, AP, December 11, 2015

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Marion Marechal-Le Pen, 26, is the fresh-faced rising star of the far-right National Front, using a soft touch to deliver hard messages on migrants and Muslims that outdo her tough-talking aunt, party leader Marine Le Pen.

The stakes in Sunday’s vote for leadership councils in 13 French regions are high. If the two Le Pens win their regions, the anti-immigration National Front will shatter France’s current political landscape–and Marine Le Pen will boost her chances in France’s 2017 presidential campaign.

Both women performed so well in the Dec. 6 first-round vote that the beleaguered governing Socialists pulled out their candidates and ordered supporters to cast ballots for the rival conservatives.

It was a deft move–and now nothing is assured. Two polls released Wednesday showed both Le Pens losing their races, meaning they have just days to redouble their efforts.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a Socialist campaigning for weeks against the National Front, played the ultimate fear card Friday, saying on France-Inter radio that “the extreme right advocates division . . . that could lead to civil war.”

In the meantime, the golden girl with long blonde locks running in southern France appears undaunted by the task.

With a soft voice and poised demeanor, Marechal-Le Pen lambasts the nation’s top politicians, once taking the floor in parliament to castigate the prime minister’s “brainless contempt” of her party. She derides France’s policy on migrants and tells Muslims they must conform to France’s Christian tradition if they want to be citizens.

She is “a woman of velvet with a character of steel,” Stephane Ravier, a National Front senator, said as he introduced Marechal-Le Pen at a campaign rally Wednesday in Marseille.

National Front members love Marechal-Le Pen, voting her to the top in committee elections a year ago over party heavyweights that included Marine Le Pen’s companion, Louis Alliot, and the National Front’s No. 2, Florian Philippot–both also running in Sunday’s regional vote.

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The younger Le Pen appeals to both Catholic traditionalists and to the radical identity movement thriving in the south that is trying to keep France French. Dishing out that message, she has vowed that as head of her southern region, she would cut funds to planned parenthood groups and associations representing Muslims.

“We are not a land of Islam,” she said at a rally in Toulon. Muslims can be French citizens “only on condition that they bend to the customs and the way of life that Greek, Roman and 16 centuries of Christianity fashioned.”

She walked that stance back a bit this week on iTele TV, stressing that all immigrants are expected to exchange their customs for the French way of life.

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