Politics

France's far-right leading family is a mess of amazing gossip right now

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen (R) and her father, France's former far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, attend a youth summer congress of the Front National (FN) far-right party on Sept. 7, 2014, in Frejus, southern France.

LISBON, Portugal — Family ties are looking a little strained within the father-and-daughter team heading up France’s radical right-wing.

“Marine Le Pen wants me dead,” Jean-Marie Le Pen, the 86-year-old founder and honorary president of the National Front party, said Thursday in Paris.

Daughter Marine Le Pen has run the party since her father stepped down in 2011.

“Jean-Marie Le Pen has entered on a downward spiral heading to ... political suicide,” she said in a statement Wednesday, announcing disciplinary proceedings and urging him to retire.

The family feud, triggered by the older Le Pen's latest incendiary comments on race, immigration and World War II, has dominated French politics this week.

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The press has drawn analogies with Shakespeare's King Lear — where the aging monarch is driven mad as his daughters scheme to gain control of his estate.

A third player in the Le Pen family drama — the National Front's rising star, 25-year-old lawmaker Marion Marechal-Le Pen — has sided with auntie Marine, having previously been a firm favorite of grandpa. 

“Only those close to you can betray you,” complained the Le Pen senior.

Since taking charge of the party, Marine Le Pen has distanced herself from some of her father's hardline positions.

That has helped her win over voters disaffected with mainstream politicians. She led the Front to first place in elections to the European Parliament a year ago and made significant gains in local elections last month.

Marine Le Pen's grand plan is to further expand the Front's support base so she can mount a challenge for the French presidency in 2017.

But dad is in the way.

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The daughter's efforts to reach out to more moderate voters — a process the French press calls the “detoxification” or “de-demonization” of the National Front — have been undermined by her father's outbursts.

In interviews last week, Le Pen senior repeated previous comments that the Nazi gas chambers were a mere “detail of history” and defended Marshal Philippe Petain, head of the French government that collaborated with Nazi occupiers during World War II.

He went on to call for an alliance between France and Russia to defend the “white world” and claimed France was “ruled by immigrants,” singling out politicians with foreign roots including Spanish-born Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

“Valls has been French for 30 years, I've been French for 1,000 years,” Jean-Marie Le Pen told the far-right magazine Rivarol. “Has this immigrant really changed?”

Marine Le Pen has responded by seeking to remove her father as the party's candidate in elections later this year for president of the southern region that includes city of Marseilles and the French Riviera. There are calls within the party for him to retire or risk expulsion.

In a typically combative mood, Jean-Marie Le Pen has vowed to fight on.

He warns attempts to marginalize him risk "dynamiting" the party. Without him as the figurehead, he suggests, the Front will implode.

His daughter has other headaches.

The Paris daily Le Monde revealed Friday that Marine Le Pen and two other leading members of her party are being investigated for financial irregularities relating to campaign funding.

The revelations could have a serious impact on the clean-hands image she presents to voters disenchanted by sleaze scandals affecting the governing Socialists and the main center-right opposition party led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. 

Political experts are divided on the electoral impact of the father-daughter spat for a party that's big on family values.

Some believe Marine Le Pen will emerge strengthened if she succeeds in ridding the party of her father's extremist views. Other's feel she risks alienating hardcore National Front's who revere her father.

"If the NF wants to making a lasting mark of French political life it has to shed its extreme-right past," Socialist lawmaker Malek Boutih told the Le Figaro newspaper. "Marine Le Pen's strategy is reaching a turning point: will she drop the extreme wing, the core of NF activists? Is strong enough for that?"

Marine Le Pen's dilemma is shared by the leaders of other far-right parties in Europe that are forced to choose between reaching out to mainstream voters or remaining loyal to their radical core.

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch anti-immigration Freedom Party, has seen his support decline since he was filmed leading party activists in a chant demanding fewer Moroccans in the country at a rally last year.

The leader of Italy's Northern League party Matteo Salvini this week told supporters the authorities should send in bulldozers to "raise to the ground" beneath gypsy camps in the country.

His comments won lots of social media praise from neo-Nazis and other radical activists, but earned Salvini a potentially costly condemnation from the Vatican.

Jean-Marie Le Pen has survived family feuds before. When he divorced Marine's mother, Pierrette Le Pen, back in the 1980s, the far-right leader reportedly refused to pay alimony, suggesting she could earn money working as a cleaner. His ex responded by posing for French Playboy in an all- revealing maid's outfit.

The episode earned Jean-Marie Le Pen widespread ridicule, but his political career soon rebounded.

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