Bertrand Langlois / AFP / Getty Images
Marion Marechal-Le Pen, far-right FN candidate and granddaughter of FN former President Jean-Marie Le Pen attends the party's annual celebration of Joan of Arc in Paris.
Though the surprising success of extreme-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen may have made her the most attention-grabbing contestant in France’s recent elections, the 43 year-old National Front (FN) leader may soon find herself eclipsed by her own niece. Indeed, despite her aunt winning nearly one-fifth of all votes casts in first-round presidential polling in April, 22-year-old Marion Maréchal-Le Pen is now positioned to shine as the FN’s brightest star in next month’s parliamentary elections. And that’s not likely to spark jealousy or tension in the Le Pen clan. The scenario was created by FN founder (and Marine’s father) Jean-Marie Le Pen, who sacrificed his own legislative aspirations so his granddaughter could run in his place—and advance Marine’s efforts to recast the very face of the French extreme-right.
Her disarming charm and angelic looks aside, there’s a genetic and political logic to Maréchal-Le Pen’s current role assisting her grandfather and aunt in advancing a political agenda reviled by most in France as xenophobic, darkly nationalistic and even racist. The child of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s youngest daughter, Yann, Maréchal-Le Pen is the third generation of her family to enter the political fray. Intelligent, articulate and exceptionally easy to gaze upon, Maréchal-Le Pen was picked to run for a seat representing the Vaucluse department in southern France—an area that has been anchored emphatically to the right for decades and is receptive to FN positions and candidates. As such, the precinct is considered potentially hospitable turf for the newly transplanted Maréchal-Le Pen’s candidacy.
The road for this parliamentary drive was opened April 25, when Jean-Marie Le Pen announced his surprise decision to withdraw his own bid for the seat and defer to his granddaughter. Given Le Pen’s long record of election defeats, his move to bow out of such a promising district—and as the FN seeks to build on the momentum of Marine’s nearly 18% tally in presidential voting—surprised some observers as remarkable selfless with victory apparently so close. However, the act probably reflects Le Pen’s wider calculation that his sacrifice promises to pay bigger future political dividends for his party and family.
Indeed, the area in which Maréchal-Le Pen is seeking election is not just FN-friendly, it gave Marine Le Pen her highest score nationally in the presidential election—a 31.5% chunk of first-round balloting that easily outdistanced incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 27.6% take. That result appeared to convince the elder Le Pen that conditions in both France and Vaucluse were ideal for Maréchal-Le Pen to assume a central role in her aunt’s drive to give the FN a younger, modern and seemingly moderate face—and perhaps provide it a rare taste of electoral victory in a plumb district.