In 2002, far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen stunned the world by making it to the second round of the French Presidential election. The electorate responded with fury, uniting around centre-right incumbent Jacques Chirac and re-electing him with over 80% of the vote.
In 2017, everyone assumes the same thing will happen to his daughter. Polls show Marine Le Pen likely to come out on top in the first round, but the conventional wisdom has it that another “anyone-but-Le Pen” movement will carry her second round opponent to victory.
Just like the conventional wisdom had it that Britain would never vote to leave the EU, or that Donald Trump would never win the key Midwestern states needed to be elected President of the United States.
Le Pen’s Front National remains radioactive to most French voters, so the odds are against her. And yet, it certainly seems like events are conspiring in her favor.
One of her top rivals is being investigated for corruption (as is Le Pen herself, but with far less media attention). And Le Pen pulled off what I thought was a political masterstroke in refusing to wear a headscarf before meeting with a key Lebanese religious leader.
Now, the European Parliament appears determined to make Le Pen a free speech martyr:
European Union lawmakers “overwhelmingly” voted on Tuesday to lift the EU parliamentary immunity of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen for tweeting pictures of Islamic State violence.
Le Pen, a member of the European parliament, is under investigation in France for posting three graphic images of IS executions on Twitter in 2015, including the beheading of the United States journalist James Foley.
Responding to a request from the French judiciary, the EU lawmakers in the legal affairs committee voted to lift her immunity, EU officials said. The committee’s decision will have to be backed by the whole parliament in a second vote, possibly this week.
Le Pen’s immunity shields her from prosecution; lifting it would permit legal action against her. The offense being considered is “publishing violent images,” which under certain circumstances can carry a penalty of three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($79,650).
“Showing and naming the horror of Islamism allow us to fight against it,” Florian Philippot, the vice president of Le Pen’s far-right National Front party, told Reuters.
If I wanted Le Pen to get elected, I’d make sure she was put on trial for posting images of atrocities carried out by Islamists. A key argument by the extreme-right is that mainstream politicians and media are too afraid of being called racist to tell the “truth” about Muslims and the Islamic faith. And now Marine Le Pen may find herself criminally charged for doing just that. It’s like the state – and the hated EU – are going out of their way to prove her point.
Le Pen is still a longshot to win the whole thing. But it seems like the French establishment is no more capable of stopping her than the American establishment was able to stop Trump.