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France's far-right political dynasty in crisis after 'gas chamber comments'

Marine Le Pen is trying to force her father out of the party he founded.

Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie have had a political falling out.
Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie have had a political falling out.

FRANCE’S FAR-RIGHT has been plunged into disarray as National Front leader Marine Le Pen openly split with her father and party founder after gas chamber comments she described as “political suicide”.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the outspoken 86-year-old founder of the FN party, has dominated headlines in recent days, repeating his view that Nazi gas chambers were a “detail of history” and defending war-time French leader Petain, who collaborated with Hitler’s regime.

His latest sorties appear to have been the last straw for daughter Marine, who has been trying to clean up the party’s anti-Semitic and racist image since she took over in 2011, a move that has seen it soar in opinion polls as it attracts more mainstream voters.

And some analysts say that while splitting from her father will be painful, it could end up making the FN more electable.

Jean-Marie Le Pen is veering between “political suicide” and “a scorched earth strategy”, said Marine, 46.

“His status of honorary president does not allow him to take the National Front hostage, to make such crass provocations that appear aimed at harming me but which unfortunately hit the entire movement, its officials, candidates, members and voters very hard,” she added.

Marine Le Pen said she would oppose his standing in regional elections in December in what deputy party leader Florian Philippot described as a “total and definitive” split between father and daughter.

Speaking of her “deep sadness”, she said she would call a meeting of party top brass “to discuss with him how to best protect the political interests of the National Front”.

Her father later responded via a statement, warning her against “a crisis that could have serious consequences.”

Some have warned that getting rid of the former paratrooper whose inflammatory speeches have made him a figurehead of France’s far-right for more than four decades, would not be easy.

Jean-Marie Le Pen “has this idea that if someone attacks you, you respond three times as strongly,” says Nicolas Lebourg, a French far-right expert.

Another expert, Alexandre Deze from Montpellier University, noted: “This decision will be very costly for Marine Le Pen, because she’s punishing not just the honorary president, but also her father, with whom her relations have become increasingly prickly.” 

France Elections Protests outside a vote centre as Maine Le Pen casts her ballot. Source: AP/Press Association Images

‘Useless provocation’

Marine Le Pen has been forced several times to distance herself from her father, who has repeated his comments about gas chambers over three decades, earning himself convictions for hate speech along the way.

In 2011, she stressed her belief that the Nazi camps were the “height of barbarism” and has recently insisted she was in “complete disagreement” with her father, whom she has described as a “punk”.

The family feud extends another generation to Marion Marechal Le Pen — Jean-Marie’s granddaughter — a rising star in the FN, who attacked his gas chamber comments as a “useless provocation”.

Since taking over from her father in 2011, Marine has led the party to a series of electoral successes, winning first place in last year’s European elections.

An opinion poll published on Saturday suggested that nearly a quarter of French people would vote for the FN in the 2017 presidential election.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has admitted he is “scared for the country”, fearing French voters could elect Marine Le Pen to the Elysee Palace.

However, in last month’s departmental elections, the FN failed to win a single region, despite performing strongly in the first round of voting.

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‘Good cop, bad cop’ 

Political scientist and FN specialist Virginie Martin told AFP that Marine’s latest move could benefit the party’s standing in the polls.

Jean-Marie is “a historic figure who always amuses the crowd and… appeals to the historic, hard-line wing of the FN,” she noted.

“But at the same time, they’re never going to lose that part of the electorate. What’s the risk of cutting off Le Pen? You might lose one or two percent but you might gain five or six.”

“Think of the section of the (centre-right) opposition UMP that are disenchanted by traditional political parties… for them, the barrier presented by Le Pen has disappeared.”

Some observers suspect a deliberate strategy in such public feuds: Jean-Marie Le Pen provokes with shocking statements which allow his daughter to slap him down and appear more mainstream.

But Martin said she “wasn’t sure there was a deliberate ‘Good cop, Bad cop’ policy.”

© – AFP 2015

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