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Third time lucky? The rise of the French far-right

By AFP - Apr 11,2022 - Last updated at Apr 11,2022

PARIS — Marine Le Pen hopes it will be a case of third time lucky for her far-right party when she goes head-to-head against Emmanuel Macron in the second round of France's presidential election on April 24.

Here is a look back at the rise of the anti-immigrant movement founded by her father Jean-Marie, which polls show is now closer than ever to winning power.

 

1972: Birth of the National Front 

 

Jean-Marie Le Pen, a former paratrooper who served in Indochina and Algeria, becomes France's youngest MP ever when he is elected to parliament in 1956.

In 1972, he and other far-right figures found the National Front (FN) to capitalise on nostalgia for France's colonial past and its collaborationist World War II leader Philippe Petain. In 1974, Le Pen makes the first of six bids for president, winning just 0.74 per cent of the vote.

 

1983-1995: 

First victories 

 

The party fails to make much headway until 1983, when it helps the mainstream right win municipal elections in the town of Dreux with a campaign blaming immigrants for unemployment. A year later, Le Pen is elected to the European Parliament.

Over the following decade, the party chalks up several firsts, despite Le Pen describing the Nazi gas chambers as a "detail" of history, earning himself one of several convictions for anti-Semitism (years later he would describe the Nazi occupation of France as "not especially inhumane").

In 1986, the FN makes a thunderous entry to the national assembly, winning 35 seats, and in 1995 it wins control of three towns in its south-eastern heartland, including the city of Toulon.

 

2002: Presidential 'earthquake' 

 

Le Pen sends tremors through the French establishment in the 2002 presidential election, when he beats out the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in an election marked by record-low turnout to secure the coveted second spot in a run-off with Jacques Chirac.

Voters from across the spectrum band together behind the centre-right Chirac but Le Pen still pockets over 4 million votes in the second round.

 

Rise of Marine Le Pen

 

In 2011, Le Pen hands the reins of the National Front to his youngest daughter, Marine. She embarks on a mission to detoxify the FN brand and rid it of its overtly racist image, which culminates in her sensational expulsion of her father from the party for anti-Semitism.

In 2012, she finishes third in the presidential election behind the Socialist Party's Francois Hollande and conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, but two years later the FN causes a shock by coming in first in France's vote for European Parliament seats.

2017: Debate disaster 

 

With former US president Donald Trump in the White House and Britain voting to leave the European Union, the winds of change appear to be blowing in Le Pen's favour as the anti-EU nationalist mounts her second bid for the presidency in 2017.

She makes it to the second round of the election against insurgent centrist Macron but stumbles badly in a TV debate with her pro-EU rival, appearing flustered and lacking a command of policy detail. Macron trounces her in the run-off by 66 per cent to 34 per cent.

In the wake of this defeat Le Pen proposes changing the party's name to the National Rally, a further effort to modernise its image that is approved by party members in June 2018.

2021: At palace gates 

 

Le Pen launches her third run for president with a vow to clean up parts of France "that have been Talibanised" and make the streets safe for women, before shifting her focus to the rising cost of living when that emerges as a key concern of voters.

The candidacy of a bombastic TV polemicist still further to the right, Eric Zemmour, looks set to cost her votes but his obsessively anti-Islam, anti-immigration agenda makes her views suddenly appear more mainstream.

She finishes second behind Macron in the first round on April 10, 2022, but polls show the second-round rematch on April 24 being too close to predict with any certainty.

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