Janine Di-Giovanni

A Le Pen as president?

Marine Le Pen is the new, friendly face of French extremism – and suddenly, she’s leading in the polls

Marine Le Pen is the new, friendly face of French extremism – and suddenly, she’s leading in the polls

There are just 13 months to go until the French presidential election and Le Phénomène Marine Le Pen, as it is called here, is getting spooky. Not so long ago, the 42-year-old daughter of Jean-Marie, now leader of the French National Front herself, was regarded as something of a joke — albeit quite an intelligent one. But now her detractors are taking her seriously. The last national opinion poll placed her first, with Nicholas Sarkozy trailing in third place. A quarter of Sarkozy’s former supporters are thought to have abandoned him for this twice-divorced mother of three, and it is becoming increasingly hard to dismiss her chances of becoming the next French president.

Having taken over as party leader in January, she still has a novelty factor — she is a regular on the sofas of French television shows. Many French analysts refused to believe her surge in the opinion polls, and are trying to find methodological inconsistencies. Le Monde went as far as to launch an investigation into the pollsters and their tactics. But there is no mystery as to why she jumps out as a candidate. Her main rival on the right is the increasingly unpopular Sarkzoy, while on the left she faces the austere Martine Aubry, Socialist Party leader and daughter of Jacques Delors, and the priapic bon viveur Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former finance minister.

Little wonder the colourful Mme Le Pen is on something of a roll. She is, alas, no monster. She has a polished, winning charm. She has always made herself accessible, pitching herself as a woman of the people — in contrast to the haughty Sarkozy, who annoys the French with his nervous tics, his sweating, and his hastily acquired supermodel wife.

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