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Le Pen revels in new French political scandal

AFP/The Local · 10 Nov 2014, 12:57

Published: 10 Nov 2014 12:57 GMT+01:00

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The latest scandal to rock French politics has sucked in both discredited mainstream parties and is only likely to benefit the jubilant far-right leader Marine Le Pen, experts say.

The new "affair" has all the hallmarks of a juicy French political drama: alleged attempts to influence an independent judiciary, shady backroom deals and cosy relationships between the political elite.

As it hit the headlines last week, Le Pen herself was naturally quick to speak out.

"They're all the same... they are all working together," cried Le Pen. "These men have made politics what it is today."

Le Pen's carefully aimed dig at France's mainstream politicians is aimed at setting herself apart from the rest. A tactic that is clearly paying off and only aided by the actions of those on the left and the right, analysts say.

"This is really a toxic affair from the point of view of public opinion because it hits the left and the right... and we know who wins out," said Frederic Dabi of polling group Ifop, referring to Le Pen. 

The scandal revolves around Nicolas Sarkozy and a legal case over the funding of his 2012 presidential campaign but for once does not directly involve the former head of state.

At a now infamous lunch in Paris's posh eighth district in June, former prime minister Francois Fillon reportedly urged President Francois Hollande's right-hand man to accelerate proceedings against Sarkozy to prevent his political comeback.

"Hit him quickly or you'll see him come back," he is alleged to have told Hollande's chief of staff, Jean-Pierre Jouyet.

Fillon is one of three main candidates (along with Sarkozy and another former prime minister Alain Juppe) vying to lead the centre-right UMP party into the 2017 presidential election.

Jouyet is also under pressure because he first denied the story then admitted Fillon had indeed brought up the issue of Sarkozy's legal woes at the June 24 lunch near the Elysee Palace.

An outraged Fillon then took to Sunday night prime-time television to denounce Jouyet as a liar, threatening to sue him, as well as the two Le Monde journalists who broke the story.

He complained he was the victim of a "plot" against him but the two reporters are sticking fast by their story and say they have a cast-iron recording of a September interview with Jouyet to back it up.

'State scandal'

The French press has leapt on what centre-right daily Le Figaro said was "turning into a state scandal".

"We already know who will profit from the crime. Someone who, in the past few months, has been capitalising on all the villainy of the PS (Hollande's Socialists) and the UMP. And that is Marine Le Pen," the paper said.

"Why do we complain that the FN vote is improving when we are doing everything to ensure it is so? If more French are voting for the FN, it's because they expect two simple qualities from their politicians: virtue and integrity. They see neither at the PS or UMP."

The Republicain Lorrain regional newspaper wrote: "The real winner is Marine Le Pen. For her, every day is Christmas."

Story continues below…

Indeed Le Pen was quick to jump on the scandal, which also laid bare the incestuous nature of French politics.

Jouyet, a long-time ally of Hollande, was also a junior minister in Fillon's government when he was prime minister during Sarkozy's presidency.

He now faces calls to resign, which would deprive the embattled Hollande of another close advisor after senior political aide Aquilino Morelle stepped down in April after allegations about a conflict of interest and his extravagant lifestyle.

With the weak UMP tearing itself apart and Hollande the most unpopular French president in history, Le Pen's far-right party is flying high, with opinion polls showing she would comfortably win through to a second round if a presidential election were held now.

The latest poll on November 4 - held two and a half years before the next election - showed Le Pen would win the first round of voting, with 30 percent.

"This series of scandals will perpetuate the idea 'they are all lousy' - the idea that politicians aren't up to scratch when it comes to their personal behaviour," Dabi told AFP.

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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