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PARIS (ChurchMilitant.com) - A handful of years ago, Le Front National, or National Front Party of France, was viewed as a far-right fringe group not worth taking seriously. Today, Marine Le Pen, Catholic head of the populist party running on an anti-EU, anti-immigration platform, is a serious contender in France's upcoming presidential elections. So, too, is François Fillon, poised to take the lead in the presidential run-offs next spring.
In a recent shock poll, Le Pen came out on top over her rivals at 28 points, a full eight points ahead of Nicolas Sarkozy, former president of France.
And in the first round of primaries for Les Républicains, Sarkozy's party, another conservative Catholic came out way ahead: Fillon — father of five, married to his wife of 30 years, and a practicing Catholic.
Once trailing behind in the polls, Fillon has emerged as the frontrunner to represent Les Républicains in its run against Le Pen's Front National in France's presidential elections in May 2017. He is enjoying his highest scores in the most strongly Catholic regions of France, particularly Brittany and Pays de la Loire.
With at least 3.5 million votes cast and turnout exceeding expectations in the French Right's first ever round of primaries on November 20, Fillon won 44.2 percent of the vote, a full 16 points ahead of his nearest rival Alain Juppé, who only gained 28.4 percent, while Sarkozy, who had hoped to re-emerge as France's president, came in last at 20.7 percent of the vote.
Fillon is by far the most conservative among the three. He voted against gay marriage when it was initially proposed, has vowed to fight adoption rights for same-sex couples, has voted against IVF babies for single mothers and lesbians, and has fought against radical Islam, supporting a ban on burkinis and speaking out on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
A large chunk of Fillon's supporters come from La Manif Pour Tous
("Demonstration for All"), a secular initiative begun in 2013 as a reaction to French legislators' decision to ram through same-sex marriage, contrary to the will of the people. The Manif's purpose is to defend the right of children to both a mother and a father, and its annual rallies are some of the largest pro-family gatherings in Europe, with numbers reaching well over a million (although they are consistently underreported in the secular press). Each year, atheists march alongside Catholics, Protestants and Muslims in protest against what they see as French legislators' destruction of the family.
The wildly popular Manif gave rise to a traditional Catholic political movement, Sens Commun ("Common Sense"), which has backed Fillon from the beginning.
Juppé ran on a more centrist platform, deriding Fillon as too traditionalist and out of touch. "I'm the most open to modernism and I feel closer to the Pope than Sens Commun or La Manif pour tous," Juppé said.
But Fillon responded
in Le Parisien, "Alain Juppé has presented a program that seems to me out of step with the center of gravity of the Right, but also the country, which is more right-wing than it ever has been."
In the populist wake of Brexit and Donald Trump's historic win, Fillon is being proven right. French Catholics are rejecting the compromise represented by Juppé in favor of a more traditionally conservative platform. And the wider French populace is roundly opposed to the socialist vision of current French president Franćois Hollande, suffering the lowest approval ratings in the country's history. Leftwing leaders are asking that Hollande not seek re-election in order to allow other leftist and socialist politicians to seek the candidacy.
Trump's win shocked the French world, with Le Pen declaring triumphantly the next day, "Nothing is immutable. What has happened this night is not the end of the world, it's the end of a world."
"The political and media elites that were heavily chastised this morning can no longer ignore it," she said," The French referendum (against the EU constitutional treaty) in 2005, the Greek one in 2015, the recent electoral successes of patriots in different European countries, the massive vote by the British in favour of Brexit and now Donald Trump — all are democratic choices that bury the old order and stepping stones to building tomorrow's world."
The second round of primaries for Les Républicains will take place November 27 to determine who will represent the party going into next year's presidential elections.
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