French right-wing leader Marine Le Pen proposed a ban on Muslim scarves in all public places on Friday and tried to build on a record poll that recently put her in the throat with President Emmanuel Macron.
The Hijab policy, which was to be questioned in court and almost certainly condemned as unconstitutional, saw the 53-year-old return to a familiar campaign theme 15 months from the country’s 2022 presidential election.
“I think the shawl is an Islamist dress,” Le Pen told reporters at a news conference proposing a new law banning “Islamist ideologies” she called “totalitarian and murderous.”
Since Le Pen took over France’s main right-wing extremist party, she has run twice for the French presidency and lost badly in 2017 to political newcomer Macron in a defeat that she took months to recover from.
But the latest vote shows her closer to her final price than ever and has led to a spate of new speculations about whether the anti-EU, anti-immigration populist could finally enter the Elysee Palace.
Despite recent setbacks by other ideologues such as Donald Trump and Matteo Salvini in Italy, a poll reported earlier this week showed her within striking distance of Macron.
The online survey conducted by Harris Interactive suggested that if a final round of the presidential election were held today, Le Pen would get 48 percent while Macron would be re-elected with 52 percent, Le Parisien reported.
“It’s a vote, it’s a snapshot of a moment, but what it shows is that the idea of me winning is credible, probably even,” Le Pen said at Friday’s press conference.
The prospect of a tight race triggered alarm bells in the French political mainstream as the dual health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic sweep across the country.
“It is the highest she has ever been at,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a French political scientist who specializes in right-wing extremism, while adding that it was “too early to take the ballot at face value.”
He said Le Pen benefited from frustration and anger over the pandemic, with France on the verge of a third lockdown, but also the beheading of a French schoolteacher by an Islamist in October last year.
“It had a big impact on public opinion,” the expert from the Jean-Jaures Foundation told AFP. “And in this area, Marine Le Pen has an advantage: her party is well known for its position of condemning Islamism.”
Islam in France
The beheading of Samuel Paty in a city northwest of Paris revived bitter arguments in France about immigration and the threat of Islamism, while the country’s strict form of secularism was under international scrutiny.
The high school teacher was attacked on the street by an 18-year-old extremist after he showed satirical caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to students during a community course on free speech.
In response to Paty’s death, Macron’s government shut down a number of organizations that were considered Islamist and drafted legislation that was originally called the “anti-separatism bill” that slams foreign funding for Islamic organizations.
If re-elected after a campaign expected to focus on jobs, the pandemic and the place of Islam in France, 43-year-old Macron would be the first president since Jacques Chirac in 2002 to win a second term.
Under the presidential system, the two best candidates continue in a first ballot to a second round where the winner must get more than 50 percent.
A Le Pen win “was unlikely three and a half years ago”, veteran political commentator Alain Duhamel told the BFM news channel this week.
“But today I would not say that it is probable, but without any pleasure I would say that it seems possible to me.”
A reconsideration of the Macron-Le Pen competition in 2017, which all polls currently show as the most likely outcome, could increase the number of votes and disillusionment with the French political system.
Participation in the second round of 2017 was 74.6 percent, the lowest level since 1969, as many voters from the left refused to vote.