Far-right Le Pen campaigns as French ‘voice of the people’

VERNON, France (AP) — Far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Tuesday described France as a nation that would put its people’s voices at the center of the political process if she is elected president in 12 days.

Le Pen, a solid nationalist, faces centrist President Emmanuel Macron in a presidential runoff on April 24. He placed first and Le Pen second in Sunday’s first-round presidential vote that eliminated 10 other candidates. Both Le Pen and Macron are now aggressively campaigning to win an election that could upend France’s system of governance and Europe’s dynamics should Le Pen be victorious.

In a dramatic change, new laws could be passed or old laws modified in a referendum proposed by citizens, with conditions such as 500,000 signatures backing the proposal . Such a system was demanded two years ago by the sometimes violent yellow vest movement for social and economic justice that challenged Macron’s government as being too business-friendly.

In Sunday’s first round of voting for the country’s next president, the far-right, including Le Pen and two other parties, together won 32% of the vote, compared to Macron’s 27.8% support, although he was the top individual candidate. Still, that means far-right voters can be expected to factor into France’s political future not just in the next two weeks, but for years, even if Le Pen loses.

Le Pen also wants two-thirds of the 577 seats in France’s lower house of parliament to be allotted by the proportional system to better reflect voters’ choices. Her anti-immigration National Rally party currently holds 8 seats.

Le Pen claimed that democracy would be the main beneficiary of these changes, giving citizens who represent what she calls “the France of the forgotten” a say in how they are governed.

Having referendums can contribute to France’s democratic culture, Le Pen said Tuesday at a news conference in the Normandy town of Vernon. A small crowd of local opponents cried “Facist!” while supporters shouted back “Marine, president!” as she left the hotel to meet the press.

“During my mandate, I count on consulting the only expert that Emmanuel Macron never consulted —the people,” Le Pen said.

Le Pen would also return the French presidency to a seven-year non-renewable mandate, instead of the current five-year term that can be renewed once.

“I want to be the president who gives back the people their voice in their own country,” she said.

The French Constitution would have to be revised to make possible the referendum concept possible, and vital subjects like nuclear power could not be put to a vote.

Also needing a constitutional change would be Le Pen’s plan, if elected, to ban Islamic headscarves in French streets. That’s a big step further than current laws, which ban headscarves in classrooms since 2004 and face-coverings in the streets since 2010. With an estimated 5 million Muslims in France, headscarves are commonly worn by many Muslim women.

“We must leave no space, not a thumb space,” for Islamists, Le Pen said, adding that she wants to “liberate” French Muslim women from the yoke of radicals.

France has faced several deadly attacks by Islamic extremists in the past decade, including the 2015 Paris attacks that left 130 people dead.

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Follow all AP stories on France’s 2022 presidential election at https://apnews.com/french-election-2022.

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