Jean-Marie Le Pen

(b. 1928)

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(b. La Trinité-sur-Mer, 20 June 1928)

French; Presidential candidate 1974, 1988, 1995, 2002, and 2007, President, National Front 1972–  Born in the western department of Morbihan, the son of a fisherman killed at sea in 1942, Le Pen was educated locally. He got involved in extreme right politics while a law student in Paris and then joined a paratroop regiment, arriving in Haiphong just before Mendès France signed the Geneva accords which saw the end of French Indochina. On his return to France, he joined the anti-system movement led by Poujade and in January 1956 was elected Poujadist deputy for Paris. He soon broke with Poujade and took leave from the National Assembly to rejoin the paratroopers fighting in Algeria. A fervent defender of the cause for empire, and always mistrustful of de Gaulle, Le Pen was re-elected to the National Assembly in 1958. He became a vehement critic of the policy of withdrawal from Algeria, was briefly placed under arrest, and in 1962 lost his parliamentary seat. Algerian independence, economic growth, and the consolidation of electoral Gaullism combined to push Le Pen to the margins of French politics for the next eighteen years. He participated in the twilight world of the far right and in 1972 managed to unite a number of its warring factions in the Front National, of which he became president. But in 1974, when he stood for the presidency, he won under 1 per cent of the votes cast and seven years later was unable to obtain the 500 sponsors needed for him to stand.

His political prospects changed markedly in the early 1980s (his personal fortunes had already improved thanks to an inheritance from a rich supporter). As the euphoria produced by Mitterrand's 1981 victory evaporated, Le Pen was able to capitalize on the resentment felt by many at the government's austerity measures and on the failure of the parties of the system right to provide a convincing alternative. A good performance in the 1983 municipal elections was followed next year by a 10 per cent vote for Le Pen's list in the European elections, and in 1986 by the election of thirty-five Front National deputies. Suddenly Le Pen found himself a media star. To the inhabitants of run-down suburbs, his blunt message—2 million immigrants too many—had considerable appeal. His warnings of an impending Islamic invasion of France and his denunciations of the political Establishment struck a chord with right-wing conservatives and with the former Algerian settlers concentrated in the south-east. The hard core of Le Pen's supporters shared his anti-Semitic, pro-Pétain views. But it was his populist ability to identify scapegoats—Arabs, bureaucrats, Aids victims—which helped him to win 14 per cent of the vote in the 1988 presidential election and 15 per cent in 1995. He achieved even greater success in the 2002 elections. To the shock of many, he came second in the first round of the elections, with nearly 17 per cent, more than Lionel Jospin, the unpopular Socialist Prime Minister, and so progressed to the second round between Chirac and himself. At this point all the main political parties opposed him and he gained 18 per cent of the vote to Chirac's 82 per cent. The success did not rub off on the party which lost all its Assembly seats in the 2002 elections. In 2007, with Sarkozy a popular candidate on the right, his share of the vote fell to 10 per cent and he came fourth. He has been a member of the European parliament since 1984 and led the National Front's campaign in the 2009 EU elections and is expected to retain his seat. He has indicated that he will resign as president of the party in 2010 or 2011, but his active support for his daughter, Marine, to succeed him has caused splits in the party.


Subjects: Politics.

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