sexta-feira, 11 de dezembro de 2015
The rapture of Marion Maréchal-Le Pen
The rapture of Marion Maréchal-Le Pen
On the campaign trail with the National Front’s new star.
By NICHOLAS VINOCUR 12/11/15, 6:45 PM CET
MARSEILLE, France — To understand why Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a 26-year-old with a law degree and a famous pedigree, is on the brink of winning control over a region the size of Belgium, it helps to spend a few hours experiencing what’s known as the “Marion phenomenon” in southeastern France.
On Wednesday night, three days after the far-right candidate crushed rivals in the first round of a regional election, hundreds of charged-up supporters packed a conference hall in Marseille.
Most were gray-haired and, judging from their cheers when town names were called out, had driven in from surrounding locales in the region. But there was also a sizable contingent of younger supporters, including plenty of neatly attired young men waiting on the margins for their heroine to start speaking.
There she was on stage, their Marion, a day away from her 26th birthday. The youngest scion of the Le Pen family, devout Catholic and patriot, “darling” of her firebrand grandfather Jean-Marie, Marion was fresh from an electoral feat: beating Christian Estrosi, the 60-year-old mayor of Nice and close ally of Nicolas Sarkozy, by a margin of 15 percentage points last Sunday.
The showing overshadowed even that of her aunt, National Front (FN) president Marine Le Pen, who had a slightly smaller lead over her center-right rival in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.
The vibe in the room was one of giddy triumphalism, as one FN speaker after another tarred their rivals as “losers,” “corrupt” and “incompetent.” When it was finally Marion’s turn, the crowd noisily approved a speech that veered in tone from sardonic and mocking, to sentimental and patriotic, and in the end to outrightly martial.
“A few days ago, before the first round, I told you we shall not retreat,” Marion said, raising her voice above the din. “Tonight I am telling you: We are advancing, and it’s they who will retreat!”
The cheers and cries of “Marion! Marion!” lasted long after the candidate had slipped away, not to return.
In such moments of excitement, nearing rapture for some, facts seem to have little bearing.
It made no difference to supporters or Le Pen’s campaign staff, for example, that a poll had just appeared that showed the young candidate losing in the vote’s final round, next Sunday, due to Socialist voters rallying behind Estrosi.
Two young men lingering after the speech said they had not heard of such a poll, and didn’t really care anyway.
“But didn’t you find it beautiful?” one of them, who identified himself as Vincent but did not want to give his last name, asked a reporter. “In any case the polls, the media, the politicians, they are all against us, so it’s best not to pay attention to any of that.”
Asked why they supported Le Pen, the pair listed, more or less in order: her beauty, her youth, the fact that she was not part of a “rotten” political establishment, her Catholic faith (both described themselves as practicing Catholics), and her ideas for the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.
Her young age and lack of executive experience did not count as drawbacks, rather the opposite.
At least she has not had time to be corrupted by the system — Nicolas Claudel
“When you look at how the others behaved who are twice her age, you figure that she could do the job better than them,” said Nicolas Claudel, a 25-year-old ceramics artist. “At least she has not had time to be corrupted by the system.”
Similar feelings came across in many conversations with Marion supporters, at the rally and in neighborhoods of Marseille where her backers won as much as 50 percent of the vote on Sunday.
In a part of France where being the granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen is not a drawback but a plus (he was excluded from the FN in August for racist and xenophobic remarks and has been convicted several times for anti-Semitic hate speech), voters adhered first to a family name and youthful persona, then to the appeal of a “non-system” candidate, and finally to a notion of French-Christian identity which seemed to trump the core values of Republican France — liberté, égalité, fraternité.
The mix has given Marion star power that rivals, and probably eclipses, that of her aunt in the region.
Local politicians who observed Marion’s campaign said she built her following methodically, shunning big city centers in favor of campaign stops in small, depressed inland towns like Carpentras, where her headquarters is based.
Her advisers, steeped in a far-right ideology based on the notion of “native French identity,” concocted a campaign platform clearly distinct from that of Marine Le Pen.
While Marine focuses on the European Union and immigrants, Marion harps on a purported culture clash between Islam and “Judeo-Christian” France, in which native French are involved in what boils down to a population war with local Muslims.
In the run-up to last Sunday’s vote, Marion — who in her youth attended a strict Catholic school near Paris, run by nuns — racked up a series of Trump-style headlines by saying that Muslims needed to “bend” to France’s Christian culture, and that they could not share the same “rank” as Christians.
She also incurred the wrath of feminists, vowing to withdraw regional funding from the French equivalent of Planned Parenthood on the grounds that it was a political group promoting abortion.
“In this area, they have won the battle of ideas,” said Jean-Marc Coppola, the communist vice president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, whose party rallied behind Socialists in last Sunday’s vote. “When you talk to people about the values of the Republic, you don’t get through anymore. People are consumed by fear of unemployment, by the fear of losing their social rank, of having to live from month to month. Then there is the core racist, xenophobic vote which goes to them no matter what.”
Coppola predicted that Le Pen had a serious chance of winning on Sunday, because he surmised that some voters who had abstained, and others who had voted left in round one, could switch to the far-right. Yet he was more concerned about what would happen 18 months from now, when the French vote in a presidential election, calling the situation dangerous.
“The fact is that these leaders don’t give a damn about regular people, so people are happy to give them back in kind,” he said. “You just can’t rule out any scenario at this point.”
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen’s entourage largely shares the same analysis, not seeming too worried about the outcome of Sunday’s vote.
One of her campaign advisers, a recent transplant from Les Républicains, said the party’s main goal in the regional election had been to win most votes in the first round, while taking the presidency of a region would come as a welcome bonus.
The real contest would be in 2017, starring Marine Le Pen and her niece in an as-yet undefined role, said the adviser, Franck Allisio.
“We’re looking toward the horizon,” he said.