Following the surprising outcomes of the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election, there are fears that we could witness another possible stunning upset — this time from the upcoming French presidential election.
There is anxiety because if Marine Le Pen, head of the right-wing extremist group National Front, wins the French election and decides to move the country out of the EU through a referendum, it will spell disaster for both the EU and the euro.
Many political pundits have drawn parallel between Le Pen and US president-elect Donald Trump, as both are right-wing politicians who quickly won the hearts and minds of people with anti-immigration and anti-globalization rhetoric.
However, as French political analyst Pascal Emmanuel Gobry recently pointed out in an article published in the American magazine “The Week”, Le Pen is more like a true right-wing extremist at heart, while Trump just adopted a right-wing stance out of political expediency and election concerns.
Unlike Trump, who is a newcomer in politics, Le Pen has been trained by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as a career politician since she was a child.
And she proves to have outdone her father as a politician, in that she was well aware since the day she entered politics that she can never become president and that her party would never be taken seriously by the French political mainstream if she makes provocative, racist or even Neo-Nazi remarks like her father did.
In order to give the impression that she is a “normal” politician on whom the French people can rely for sound leadership, she has been mainly focusing on real and solid issues throughout her political career, issues such as social welfare distribution, employment and anti-globalization, in order to diversify her support base and appeal to a wider demographic.
She even went to extreme lengths to reshape her party’s image by expelling her own father, the founding chairman of the National Front, from the party, a move that spoke volumes about her ruthlessness and her firm belief in the doctrine of “the end justifies the means”.
If we look back at history, we may find a set pattern in the rise to power of extreme political groups. From the Nazis to the Popular Front, they all began as small and humble political parties which stressed party discipline and vowed to protect the interests of the average people.
And they often focused on “normal” issues such as redistribution of wealth and protection of workers’ rights in order to expand their support base as much as possible during their rise to power. With the Nazis, it wasn’t until Hitler became Chancellor in 1933 and then president in 1934 that he finally reared his ugly head as a dictator and mass murderer.
Le Pen is apparently following that same pattern, although the National Front is extremely unlikely to become the next Nazi Party. However, as a seasoned politician truly devoted to right-wing extremism, she is also unlikely to go back on her election promises. So we’d better take her words as a presidential candidate seriously.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 6
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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