Elections in France 2022: All the masks of Marine Le Pen | International

There are those who feel predestined to lead a party, or even a country. And then there are those who did not even have to consider those designs, because they lived it from the cradle. Marine Le Pen, who this Sunday will try for the third time to conquer the French presidency, grew up in the National Front. Because being a Le Pen is not only belonging to a family. It is being part of a party that is inseparable from its family and that, in recent decades, has forced France to look at itself in the most extreme mirror, that of nationalist and identity exacerbations, that of hatred of outsiders (immigrants, Muslims ) as the origin of all problems, that of a fractured nation and irreconcilable classes.

Marine Le Pen’s greatest merit is that the reflection given by that cloudy mirror is, a decade after assuming the reins of a party that provoked rejection from all social and political sectors of the country, that of an affable, smiling, familiar (cat lover!), close to the “people” and their concerns (despite the fact that she grew up in one of the richest areas of Paris and even her own father called her the “petit bourgeois”) and, for each time more French, “presidential”. An extreme right, in short, that is no longer scary.

But who is Marine Le Pen? Is she that leader hardened in the harshest and most extreme politics since birth, the politics that makes migrants tremble with a program that could see them expelled from the country or relegated to the bottom of society? Or is it that tireless worker, that affable woman, mother of three children who has almost raised alone after her two divorces (with members of the FN, now National Regroupment) and who now shares a house with another woman, a childhood friend, they say both, and her half dozen cats?

Steeve Briois is vice president of the National Rally and mayor of Hénin Beaumont, the town in the northern department of Pas-de-Calais that has become Le Pen’s fiefdom and that she represents as a deputy in the National Assembly. “In France, for years, Marine has been unfairly demonized. The French do not know the real Marine Le Pen, they do not know that she is a woman of heart and that she really has empathy for the French, and they do not know that she is brave, that she has ambitions for the country, not for her. She wants to fight for the country and especially for the French”, she assures EL PAÍS. David Rachline, RN mayor of southern Fréjus and at the time France’s youngest senator, highlights the “sweetness and honesty” of his boss. Of course, Rachline, like Briois or the spokesman Sebastien Chenu (both gay), are key figures in this new image of the RN that Le Pen seeks to project, a party that has wanted to rejuvenate itself and get rid of labels such as homophobic or anti-Semitic that weighed down its progress for decades.

That new face is nothing more than a sham, according to his opponents. Le Pen “is the candidate of a clan, the heiress of a family adventure, the umpteenth Le Pen who stands before the French in a campaign. It is not really the candidacy of the people, ”warned her rival at the polls, the outgoing president Emmanuel Macron, in his last televised interview before the vote this Sunday.

The fascinating thing about Le Pen, who has entire (unauthorized) biographies dedicated to trying to unmask her true personality, is that she can be everything that is said about her at the same time, says Raphaël Llorca, an expert on the extreme right at the Jean -Jaures.

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“That image of Le Pen as a working woman, who likes cats, is true. It is no use wasting time trying to dismantle these elements as false, ”she says in a telephone conversation. That said, she points out, “all these elements, without being false, are at the service of a more global strategy that seeks to erase and disguise the extreme right label. I don’t think they are two contradictory ideas, but that one is at the service of the other”, adds the author of The masks of the extreme rightwhich analyzes Le Pen’s demonization strategy to make himself more presidential.

An accelerated process during Macron’s five-year term but that began as soon as Marine Le Pen took the reins of the National Front, in 2011. The final touch was given in 2018, when he changed the name of the party he had inherited from his father to National Regroupment and founder, Jean-Marie LePen. He had already gotten rid of him in 2015, by expelling him from the formation, after the umpteenth pro-Nazi comment. Since then, he has even erased the cursed surname from electoral propaganda — another great burden — presenting himself to voters simply as Marine. Even if it’s not even her real name.

Marine Le Pen greets a man at a campaign rally last Friday.DENIS CHARLET (AFP)

Marion Anne Perrine was born on August 5, 1968 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, one of the wealthiest areas of Paris, as the third and last child of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Pierrette Lalanne. Four years and two months later, her father held the presidency of the National Front, founded together with veterans of the Algerian war, nostalgic for the Vichy regime or traditionalist Catholics, among others.

Marine discovered that politics is not an easy path, especially if you go to the extremes, when she was still Marion or Marinou, as the youngest of the clan was called at home. In the early hours of November 2, 1976, a bomb destroyed the apartment in the wealthy 15th arrondissement of Paris where the Le Pen lived. For Marine it was an awakening, at such a young age, to what it meant to be a Le Pen. “From that night on, I can no longer ignore it. I enter fully into politics, and because of its most violent facet, the most cruel, the most brutal”, she recounted in 2006 in her autobiography against the flots (Counterflow).

“petit bourgeois”

What he recounts in less detail, or more made-up, was the door to a “petty bourgeois” life that opened for him that same night of horror: the Le Pen settled in the mansion that a businessman friend of the family gave them in Saint -Cloud, another of the wealthiest towns on the Parisian outskirts where, according to the journalist Renaud Dély in the unauthorized biography The real Marine Le Pen, a progressive bourgeois among the fachas, “grew up in luxury, between champagne and parties, wearing out the soles on the dance floors of the fashionable venues”. Le Pen Sr. continues to reside there to this day, conveniently away —or silenced— from politics and the social networks to which he is so fond, at least until the end of the electoral process in which his daughter risks everything. .

It wasn’t always like this. Although she became a member of the FN as soon as she came of age and started working in the party shortly after graduating in law, Marine was not to be Le Pen’s political heir. The designated dauphin was her older sister, Marie-Caroline. But in 1998, when the FN was on the verge of splitting, Marie-Caroline and her husband, Philippe Olivier (today Marine’s right-hand man), bet on Le Pen Sr.’s rival, Bruno Mégret, opening a wound familiar that would take years to heal. It would not be the last of hers, nor was it the first of hers: years before, in 1984 and in the midst of a divorce from Jean-Marie, the matriarch Pierrette had taken revenge on her ex-husband by posing nude for the magazine Playboy, which led to his daughter Marine not speaking to him for 15 years. After the betrayal of his eldest daughter, Jean-Marie then designated the youngest of the clan as his political heir. By then, Marine, who had just given birth to Jehanne, the first of her three children – the twins Louis and Mathilde were born just 11 months later – with her first husband, Franck Chauffroy, was already taking her first political steps as a regional councilor .

Marine Le Pen, with her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, at a campaign event for the 2012 elections.
Marine Le Pen, with her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, at a campaign event for the 2012 elections.Frederic Nebinger (Getty Images)

The jump to the national sphere was made in 2002, when his father managed to classify the FN for the first time in the second presidential round. The night of the final vote, the FN did not know who to send to the television set to take stock of what would end up being a crushing defeat against Jacques Chirac (who took 82% of the votes). “Let’s go Marine,” says the father. A young woman with long blond hair, physically very similar to the patriarch Le Pen— “she is a clone of her father,” said her mother Pierrette, not only because of the physical resemblance—and with a strong and harsh voice, comes out to give the expensive. “But who is this?” asked another guest of the broadcast and until today also a leading figure in French politics: the then socialist senator Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

That night was born —or at least discovered his true self— a political animal who since then has not stopped climbing positions in the FN and in French politics: from MEP in 2004 and 2009 to a first candidacy for the Elysee in 2012. Ten years later, you are closer than ever to achieving it. Despite this, her leadership has not been uncontested nor has she been exempt from internal struggles and even family betrayals, something perhaps unavoidable in a political family such as the Le Pen clan.

“Parricide!” Le Pen Sr. exclaimed when his daughter excluded him from the party in 2015. “It’s brutal, violent,” Le Pen’s daughter reacted seven years later, when she was the one betrayed by her niece —and dangerous political rival— Marion Maréchal, who joined in February the ranks of the one who during a moment of the campaign threatened the right-wing leadership of Marine Le Pen, the even more ultra (at least in form) Éric Zemmour. Maréchal, who also dropped the surname Le Pen, had already betrayed her for the first time after the 2017 defeat, by abandoning politics and criticizing her aunt. “Betrayal is a custom in politics,” Le Pen often repeats, not without some gloating, despite the fact that in recent times he has once again publicly supported his daughter. Will she keep doing it if she fails again this Sunday? Will she throw in the towel in that case?

Although they say it in a low voice, not a few in the RN are preparing for a future without a Le Pen at the helm. This does not mean, Briois stresses, that Marine’s political career is over, as so many have proclaimed on so many occasions. “Of course the political battle will continue. It’s not going to stop. Politics is a virus that one contracts. Being a singer, a painter, is a true passion. Marine Le Pen’s passion is defending others through politics. It is something that he will continue to do whatever the circumstances and the results, ”says the (very) right hand of him. The truth is only known, once again, by Marine Le Pen herself.

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