Sidra Khan |
It would be convenient to state here that if it’s one thing the French know how to do well; it’s building a truly befuddling maze.
When we say France, what is it that comes to a regular person’s mind as the most identifiable thing about France? Is it the opulent perfumes? The lofty Eiffel Tower? French Wine? But ask who’s the most recognizable French politician or a military leader and by far the most common name will be of one man, Napoleon Bonaparte and maybe a far second President Charles de Gaulle. There is an amusing story about the fabled leader, Napoleon, who owned a property by the name of Villa Pisani and how he got lost in the hedge he himself had designed. Years later, during the Second World War, two other European political giants, Hitler and Mussolini met in that same Villa as a formal meeting place. As luck would have it, both of them got lost in that maze as well.
If there is one thing the French know how to do well; it’s building a truly befuddling maze. A perception that seems to have crept into its realpolitik as well. As France entered the Presidential elections, the prospect of a far-right party gaining power appears more and more realistic. Though there’s still a long way and a considerably uphill journey that awaits her for a far right Presidency is to become a reality, and for her to become France’s first female President.
For now, centrist Emmanuel Macron was slightly ahead in Sunday’s elections, he won 24 percent to her 21 percent of the vote. Polls for the second round due on May 7, also show him slightly ahead of her, especially as most of the other players have thrown their weight behind him. However, as Christopher Hitchens once put it, what are polls except for a clear example of sleazy reporting and lethargic journalism jumbled into one another? Donald Trump electoral win last year gives further vindication of this statement. As poll after poll had shown him behind Hilary Clinton.
The face of National Front
Marine Le Pen, is the face of the National Front. The party which was not long ago considered a political entity existing simply to make up the numbers is now a genuine contender for the French corridors of power. It is by virtue of her leadership that has brought the party out from the fringes of the French and by extension European politics and into the spotlight. Since taking over in 2011, from her father, her complete and radical makeover of her party has included, finally getting rid off the repugnant anti-Semitist image that the party acquired for itself under the 4-decade long rule of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.
She has been a vocal supporter of the various right-wing nationalist movements springing up all across Europe that all breathe the same contempt for the European Union and yearn for the same nationalist prospects as she does. Her most vocal manifesto during this election trail has been devising an economic and social plan to shield the French workers and citizens from the increasingly authoritarian decisions being ruled out in Brussels. Her dissolute projection of French matters being decided in the European Central Parliament in Brussels rather than in Paris has been another rallying point for her.
Le Pen taps into anti-Globalization feelings as seen in UK and USA
Indeed, a firm cornerstone of her politics has been of similar ilk as that of the UKIP during the Brexit campaign and Donald Trump’s during the 2016 Presidential Election. All these political musings echo the same anti-Globalization tendencies being used relentlessly by these entities to garner as much nationalistic fervor and support as possible. She has also been publicly haranguing the Euro having made it obvious that were she to gain control of the government, she would hold a similar referendum akin to that of Brexit in order to move the country away from the EU and the central currency. She also has a radical plan to ensure that her public spending projects are backed up heavily by the French Central Bank.
The party which was not long ago considered a political entity existing simply to make up the numbers is now a genuine contender for the French corridors of power.
There seems to be no hurdle she’s not ready to tackle in order to ensure her victory. In 2015, she may have added a whole another argument against the notion that blood is thicker than water when she had her father removed from the party. A notorious development where her father made rather provocative remarks regarding the Holocaust and the infamous gas chambers, Le Pen showed no clemency. Considered an act of brilliant “state above all else” vehemence, it is just one more cornerstone in her bid to gain the country’s top seat.
She has already improved her standing from 2012, by entering the second round of elections, May 7th. ,In 2002, her father managed to make it to the second round, only to be run over in a landslide political victory by Jacques Chirac.
Russia, as a Trump card?
Vladimir Putin, gave her a public audience during her visit to the Kremlin making it increasingly obvious that Russia is now actively involving itself in an ideological warfare with the rest of Europe.
There is, however, another card she has been able to use quite efficiently, a card that has been in the news for its use by other entities with similar agendas across Europe. In March of this year, that card lent its support to her. That card, is Russia. Vladimir Putin, gave her a public audience during her visit to the Kremlin making it increasingly obvious that Russia is now actively involving itself in an ideological warfare with the rest of Europe. Her stand on national matters has been conservative to its core, highlighting the flaws of the open border policy undertaken by Hollande and Merkel as a leading factor in the surge of crime across France. She was in hot water recently for sharing clips and images of the heinous beheadings carried out by the Islamic State, she remained adamant in its favor. As per her view, the masses need to be told about why the enemy must be fought and why their ideals and values are incompatible with French values.
Her suggested policies and social reforms have garnered much support and acclaim on her election trail, it remains to be seen whether the elusive “silent majority” will come to her aid as it did in the both the cases of Brexit and Donald Trump.
Sidra Khan is International Relations MPhil Scholar and currently Lecturer at NUML university. Her area of expertise is South Asian Politics and Western Hemisphere. She has also worked at the ISSRA and SVI think tanks based in Islamabad. She tweets @sidrakhan824