Elections in France: Marine Le Pen’s cats or why the extreme right no longer scares the French so much | International
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Marine Le Pen still gets emotional in interviews when she evokes Artémis. It was the traumatic death of this Bengal cat, devoured by her father’s Doberman, Jean-Marie Le Pen, that prompted the French far-right leader in 2014 to leave her father’s house once and for all and move in with her cats — he has half a dozen—to his own dwelling. At that time, she had already taken the reins of the National Front founded by her father and had begun the process of “de-diabolizing” her image and her party; a process that has now brought her closer than ever to her dream of settling (with her cats) in an Elysium that in less than two weeks she will try to conquer for the third time.
The success in the new assault on the French presidency when, after his defeat in 2017, many considered Le Pen’s career over, is summed up by many analysts as a successful mix of pouvoir d’achat et pouvoir de chat. The play on words refers to purchasing power (pouvoir d’achat) that has become the main concern of the French in these elections, and that Le Pen was able to identify very early in the electoral campaign. And then there is the “power of cats”, that image that she has been able to transmit, especially on social networks that she manages quite masterfully, of a nice, close, earthy woman who loves animals — “cat mom”, she defines herself — who does not hesitate to sneak a selfie of himself smiling with a kitten in his arms between tweet and political tweet.
“Look not only at the programs, but also at the character of each [candidato]because what one is will determine how one will act tomorrow”, he has repeatedly repeated during the campaign in each market in which he has stood up to chat with the voters (and there have been many).
His strategy seems to have worked. According to a survey by the Ifop institute carried out just before the first round last Sunday, 53% of French people consider her “nice”, compared to 47% of those who say the same about her rival, outgoing president Emmanuel Macron. 60% see it “close to the concerns of the French” (35% for Macron) and 57%, “attached to democratic values”. 47% (compared to 40% of Macron) believe her “capable of unifying the French”, another obsession of these elections after a five-year period plagued by social protests (yellow vestsanti-vaccines…).
“A campaign shows the candidates as they are (…) and there is not a single Frenchman who thinks that Marine Le Pen is from the extreme right, except perhaps those who are in this room,” Le Pen’s spokesman, Sébastien Chenu, summed up during the presentation of the pollster’s data before a French press that in large part continues to warn of the danger of a victory for the RN.
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Marine Le Pen (who has come to eliminate her surname in electoral propaganda) began her “de-demonization” program as soon as she took over the ultra party in 2011. It involved, among other things, expelling her father from its ranks in 2015, after a new pro-Nazi comment that has earned him several court convictions in recent years and renaming the party National Regrouping after the 2017 electoral fiasco. The result has been a sweetening of his image —cats against Doberman— that a year ago he the centre-left institute Fundación Jean-Jaurès to warn in a risk analysis of the “not insignificant possibility” that Le Pen daughter could become president in 2022.
And that then the zemour Effect, the entry into the campaign of the far-right polemicist who, with his extreme speech against immigrants, against Muslims and his fame as a misogynist, has also contributed, albeit inadvertently, to soften the image of a Le Pen who has managed to distance herself from those who he came to be considered a danger to his political future, but that has been deflated at the polls (Zemmour only achieved 7.07% of the vote, compared to 23.15% for the RN leader).
“There are no more than 50% of French people who think that Marine Le Pen is a danger to democracy. Very different than with Zemmour, considered a danger to democracy by 70% of French people”, confirms political scientist Jean-Yves Camus. “So yes, indeed there has been… I don’t know if you can talk about trivialization, but in any case a greater acceptance of the person that Marine Le Pen is,” says the Jean-Jaurès specialist on the extreme right (he prefers to call her , like other political scientists, radical right, which does not diminish its danger, he stresses).
“But not only his person,” he warns. For Camus, there are also other external factors that have played in favor of Le Pen these years. On the one hand, the jihadist attacks that have caused a “hardening” of French public opinion regarding issues such as security and identity, pillars of Le Pen’s speech. To this is added, he indicates, a natural process such as the death of former high-ranking FN officials since he assumed the party, 11 years ago. “The demography has worked in his favor and Le Pen has also managed to integrate young people” into the party, says Camus, pointing to the current party president, Jordan Bardella, 26. A generation around the age of 30 (their largest voting niche) who were barely children when, 20 years ago now, the “devil” Jean-Marie Le Pen managed to qualify in the second round, causing a great national shock and activating for the first time the cordon sanitaire that led to it being massively defeated by Jacques Chirac.
For young people, unless they were born into a frontist family, “this episode means nothing to them,” says Camus. “They have reached political maturity with Marine Le Pen,” he adds. And this one she has cleverly taken advantage of another advantage of far-right parties like the RN: their great ability to “transform and modernize,” adds the political scientist. “It is the first French political party to create a website. It has Twitter and Facebook accounts and professional digital communication. It is a match that attracts young people.” And to cat lovers. And who can resist a video of kittens?
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