Eszter-Petronella SOÓS PhD

53. “Women ” prove the FN is a divided party

​Earlier, I suggested in some of my analyses and interviews that the FN was a divided organisation, as internal power struggles are routinely present within the party. In recent days we have seen many evidence of this, since a nasty conflict erupted between Marion Maréchal-Le Pen and her aunt (party leader Marine Le Pen), as well as between Vice President Florian Philippot and Maréchal-Le Pen.

Surprisingly enough, abortion was on the agenda of the Republican primary between Alain Juppé and Francois Fillon. Simultaneously, a draft law of the government stirred debate, too. It criminalizes the dissemination of false information about abortion on the Internet, especially those disguised as objective, official health care information sites. Tthe problem is real, a Le Monde editorial recognizes that too, but also draws our attention to the fact that freedom of speech will be substantially harmed by this regulation, and might create a precedent for other similar bans. Le Monde  is right, but this article is not about the bill per se).

In connection with the discussion of the bill, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen – who belongs to the conservative-catholic wing of the FN – explained that she believed the National Front should propose a limitation of social security refunds of abortion. Her aunt, Marine Le Pen publicly contradicted her, stated – altering her previous opinion – that she was not going to make any changes regarding abortion regulations. The new strategy seems to bear its fruits as a recent Ifop survey shows that 38% of surveyed women believe that Marine Le Pen represents best the interest of women in 2017, followed by opponents Emmanuel Macron and Francois Fillon with 37% each (the order is slightly different in the case of male respondents, but Le Pen is among the first three, and numbers vary within the margin of error). 

Florian Philippot went further then the FN leader when he said that Maréchal-Le Pen was alone and isolated with her position (party members and officials sympathizing with Maréchal-Le Pen started then to post solidarity messages on Twitter). 

The two politicians came into conflict once more in public, since Maréchal-Le Pen called Philippot’s attack an aggression, and stated that she was not alone. She also suggested that the new line of FN would not be determined in the “studio of BFMTV”. She stated that the current party program was closer to Maréchal-Le Pen’s opinion, although the politician acknowledged the fact that her aunt had the right to announce a different presidential program.

Party leader Marine Le Pen swiftly rebuked Philippot and Maréchal-Le Pen by saying that the French were dealing with thousand more important problems and were not interested in internal disputes – which she considered to be closed. Her argument was that in 2011 she wanted to calm her radical opposition with her opinion on abortion, but since 2011 she was re-elected as the leader of the National Front, which implicitly, she argued, legitimized the change of direction.

These discussions illustrate the fact that the National Front is not a unitary party and that the normalization – envisioned by Le Pen – has encountered internal opposition and disputes. The populist, neogaullist republican radicalism of the new FN struggles with the radical, conservative-catholic, nationalist old guard, paradoxically represented by a young Maréchal-Le Pen, and the elderly founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The essence of the debate is that according to Marine Le Pen, it is not possible to govern with a conservative-catholic-nationalist-racist party line. It is sufficient to exist. But she no longer wants to merely exist, she wishes to govern, and therefore she leads the FN to the populist-neogaullist left, and under – in many aspects – the umbrella of the normative values of the Republic (tactically, it is unclear whether this takes votes away from Le Pen or not, but strategically it is completely logical). Nevertheless, there are still many people in the FN who see this shift as treason.

The battle is open, we’ll see how it goes.

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