18:01 GMT09 May 2021
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    The leader of the right-wing anti-immigration Front National Party in France, Marine Le Pen, has chosen the young mayor of Frejus, David Rachline - who banned the burkini from the commune's beaches - to direct her 2017 presidential campaign in a move that could polarize public opinion.

    Amid rising Islamophobia in France, a number of French holiday resorts introduced a ban on Muslim women wearing burkinis — bathing suits that cover the whole body, except the face and feet. However, civil liberties groups criticized the ban, because Muslim women should be free to express their religion. The ban was overturned in August by France's senior administrative court.

    The fact that Le Pen has appointed Rachline as her campaign director is significant, in the it will weigh well with many in her own party and appeal to the rising sense of Islamophobia in France, caused by the EU migrant crisis and the terror attacks in Paris, Nice and other cities in France.

    However, Le Pen — who is leading Hollande in the polls by 30 percent to 10, with Republican Nicholas Sarkozy on 25 — is also keen to pick up support from the center ground and the move to install Rachline, who is known for his extremist remarks, may not play well among moderates.

    "It may be a careless decision, because David Rachline has a track record for saying extreme things, and Marine Le Pen does not want to scare people and wants to avoid gaffs at all costs. Or it may be part of a strategy to counterbalance her softer image, because she still needs to keep the FN's core voters fired up," Nicolas Lebourg, a political analyst at the left-leaning Fondation Jean Jaures think tank told France 24.

    ​Racist Row

    The issue of extremist remarks within the Front National is a sensitive on for Le Pen, given the historic split within her own family after a string of racist remarks made by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

    In April 2015, Le Pen reiterated his past comments that the Nazi gas chambers were a mere detail of history and his daughter — who took over as president of the National Front in 2011 — suspended him from the party. Many said she pounced on his comments to suspend him so that he posed no threat to her bid for political power, having moved the party more mainstream.

    He denounced her and told her to marry so that she could no longer have the family name and said it would be "scandalous" if his daughter won in the 2017 French presidential elections after the way she treated him.  

    Le Pen senior challenged the suspension in the courts and won his case and re-instatement to the party. However, in August 2015 a special meeting of the party expelled him.

    Marine Le Pen's appointment of Rachline may be seen as an attempt for him to maintain order within the party, while she appeals to a broader audience to gain a greater share of the vote. She suffered a setback in her long term ambitions of becoming France's first female President in the 2017 elections after tactical voting robbed her party of a single win in the regional elections, in December 2015.

    ​Despite having won six out of 13 regions in the first round of voting on December 6, Le Pen's party did not manage to win powers in a single region after the second round of voting on December 13 — despite winning 6.8 million votes, its largest ever poll rating.

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    Tags:
    French 2017 election, migrant crisis, terrorism, islamophobia, immigration, Front National, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen, Europe, France
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