France’s Le Pen Hit by Party Candidate Scandals

French far-right leader Marine le Pen and candidate for the 2022 French presidential election gestures as she addresses members of Parliament during a debate on the new Covid-19 measures at the National Assembly in Paris, Thursday, April 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

(AFP) — French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has seen her party dealt a series of blows ahead of regional elections later this month after several candidates became embroiled in scandals over racism or inappropriate comments.

In the biggest misstep to date, the National Rally’s lead candidate in the eastern Bourgogne-Franche-Comte region found himself roundly condemned on Friday after making a joke about farmer suicides.

Julien Odoul, who had been leading in the polls, was reported by left-wing newspaper Liberation to have asked ironically at a meeting of regional figures in 2019 if a farmer found hanged at his property had used a French-made rope.

Odoul, a former model who previously worked in Le Pen’s cabinet, told AFP in a text message that “everything is coming out to smear” him, while not denying the quotes attributed to him in the newspaper.

Elsewhere, the National Rally withdrew its support and condemned a candidate in the western Gironde region, Marta Le Nair, after past anti-Semitic social media posts were unearthed and published online.

Le Nair wrote in 2015 that after shaking hands with a Jew “you should check that you still have 10 fingers,” according to screenshots published by a local Socialist party figure.

Continuing the bad news for the far-right, a candidate in the central Creuse region was convicted for domestic violence this week, while another in the Ardennes was found to have a past conviction for child sex offences. 

At least two other candidates have been disciplined by the party for racist or anti-Semitic remarks in the past few days.

The incidents are damaging for Le Pen who has worked to “detoxify” the party after taking over in 2011 from her father Jean-Marie, whom she kicked out during a row over his anti-Semitic remarks.

Her personal ratings have risen sharply over the last year and she is at historic highs in the polls, trailing President Emmanuel Macron only narrowly 10 months before the first round of next year’s presidential election.

It remains to be seen whether the events of the last few days will have an impact on the regional elections on June 20 and 27 in which the National Rally was hoping to make major gains.

Le Pen’s political rivals have made clear that they intend to target advisors close to her as well as more junior party members to highlight that the party had not shed its legacy of racism and anti-Semitism.

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© Agence France-Presse

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