Marine Le Pen redefining populist politics in France
National Front’s leader’s picturisation of France as a country weakened by both bureaucrats and burqas can impress many, but not beyond a point. Marine Le Pen has an edge, but she should not expect more. It would be worth watching how she scores in the French presidential elections
Populism in France is at its height. The upcoming presidential elections of the country may offer a chance to its far right political party National Front a rare chance to come closer to win the Elysee Palace. To many, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the party, may even win the presidential poll. If it happens, this will create a new history in modern France as the party has been struggling for the last four decades to snatch power from the mainstream parties in the country. With the escalation in the European migrant crisis, the ISIS-backed terror attacks in Paris and Nice, the successful Brexit vote and lastly, Donald Trump’s march towards the White House, her Euroskeptical and ultra-nationalist politics is fast gaining ground in France. Recent polls indicate her as a leading candidate for French presidency, respondents rating her much better over the socialist incumbent Francois Hollande. For many liberal and progressive observers of global politics, her rise is none other than an ominous signal not only for France, but also for entire Europe.
Now let’s find out why populist politics has taken the centre stage in many of the old democracies across the world? What does this brand of politics aspire for? And finally, what is the main agenda of Marine Le Pen for her country?
Truly speaking, many of the world’s oldest citadels of democracies are witnessing the rise of ultra-nationalist parties. They are trying to showcase the issues affecting the commoners which have all been ignored by the major political parties. That is why today the locals are sadly sidelined while accepting the global cosmopolitan political waves in many of these countries. And, the far right parties have quietly come to fill this void to address the pressing problems of the middle, lower middle, working class and particularly the woes of the young generation. But then, these parties, like that of the National Front, have responded much better to the disgruntled than many of the mainstream political actors. Nevertheless, they have not been able to offer any credible solution to the people as they have not got any chance to come to power. Thus, their arguments are gaining grounds in countries like America, France, Germany, etc. But political pundits say this wave will continue. This brings home the fact that political populism for now will equally raise both hopes and fears along with the mainstream political ideologies.
Populism refers to different things to different people, groups and political parties. But what has been on display in France, the US, the UK, Hungary, Germany, etc, can rightly be described as a resurgence of their national identities in a new fashion. While conveying this, populist leaders are employing both real and imaginary threats to their major ethnic groups as a defining moment and urging them to recapture their lost ground from the “outsiders”. “But all versions of populism share a suspicion of hostility towards elites, mainstream politics and established institutions. Populism sees itself as speaking for the forgotten ordinary person and often imagines itself as the voice of genuine patriotism” (Fareed Zakaria 2017). This is exactly how leaders like Marine Le Pen are capable of making her space and is convincing many, while taking the centre stage in France.
To her, political leaders are no more defending their interests, but defending special interests. Therefore, she feels that there is a form of revolt on the part of the people against a system that is no longer serving them, but rather serving itself. She directly showed her support both for Trump and Bernie Sanders who strongly rejected a system that has been only serving itself. In a recent poll campaign, she warned her supporters of “two totalitarianisms: globalisation and Islamism” that want to “subjugate France”. She asked the people of France to say no to the untamed globalisation. This globalisation is imposed at all costs and it is a war against everyone for just the benefit of the few. If this is the case that she is arguing for, she is not doing something very unusual. There have been massive movements by the non-governmental organisations, activists, civil society organizations, etc, throughout the world against the pitfalls of globalisation and post-globalisation.
On the other hand, her concerns against Islamic fundamentalist threats to her countrymen have come at time when she could offer more than sufficient reasons to justify the same. Indeed, France has proved to be a fertile ground for ISIS-sponsored terror suspects and they have really posed a serious threat to the national security. Therefore, she argues that the current Government of Hollande is just doing nothing to protect the country from Islamic terror. For her, France needs to put an urgent cap on the migration flows as many of them are turning towards jehad. Thus, she wanted to put an end to “birthright citizenship” which paves the way for automatic acquisition of French nationality. Beyond this, she advocates that apart from Islam, no other religion causes problems. To her all other religions are subject to the rules of secularism, but Islam is an exception to that, particularly, the fundamentalists within Islam have refused to accept the credentials of secularism and rather favour to be governed by their superior Sharia laws. Thus, she goes further and says that “burkini” is an Islamic uniform, it is not a bathing suit. To her, burkini is one of the many ways in which Islamic fundamentalism flexes its muscles. So she is all in favour of a ban. Besides, she is completely against “communitarianism” — organised communities that live according to their own laws. She regards that an Anglo-Saxon model has nothing to do in France. But then, how millions of Muslims living in France for decades will assimilate in the French society? She wants them to live side by side, with their own lifestyle, own code, own language and with their own mores. However she says that individual freedom does not allow one to call into question the major civilisational choices that France has made in the past. It is really tough to accept her brand of nationalism wherein she is leaving very less space for any debate and dialogue, so to say.
With the Brexit in sight, she has been demanding for a Frexit, which according to her will make France more independent. She says, “Freedom is not isolation. Independence is not isolation. And what strikes me is that France has always been much more powerful being France on its own than being a province of the European Union. I want to rediscover that strength.” She views the EU more as a system which paralyses the independent initiatives of France the way it has been put forwarded by the Brexit supporters. She is directly blaming German Chancellor Angela Merkel for imposing her views on the rest of the Europe and particularly for inviting millions of refugees to the continent.
Now, it’s crystal clear what she stands for. Her France will be entirely different from what we have seen today. She has equal respect for both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. She wants to recapture the lost status of France in global affairs. Her picturisation of France as a country weakened by both bureaucrats and burqas can impress many, but not beyond a point. But then, it would be worth watching how she will score her points in the French presidential elections. Definitely, she will have an edge, but she should not expect more. All will be decided by the people and hence for now, let us leave it to them, not to Marine Le Pen.
(The writer is an expert on international affairs)
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