France’s far-right party told Al Jazeera Friday that it suspended a candidate in the upcoming municipal elections who came under fire in French media for what many called a racist Facebook post.
Anne-Sophie Leclere, the National Front’s candidate for the northern municipality of Rethel in March’s elections, posted a photo of Justice Minister Christiane Taubira — originally from French Guiana, a French overseas department in northern South America — next to a photo of a monkey.
“I prefer to see her swinging in a tree than to see her in government,” Leclere told TV channel France-2 in an interview, echoed across French media.
Leclere “is no longer the National Front candidate in the elections,” National Front spokesman Nicolas Bay told Al Jazeera.
It appears Leclere has since removed the offending photo from her Facebook page, which includes photos of Leclere with party president Marine Le Pen and her firebrand father Jean-Marie, the National Front’s founding leader, who was charged with racism and multiple occasions and denied the Holocaust had ever occured.
Remaining shares on Leclere’s Facebook as of Friday, 5:00 a.m. EDT includes an image reading, “Homo, don’t forget: you have one father AND one mother. NO! to gay marriage.”
Leclere’s party membership is currently under review, Bay said.
Yassir Kazar, a French-Moroccan dual citizen and immigrant rights advocate, told Al Jazeera Leclere’s suspension is a sign of a shift in the National Front’s politics.
“What can we learn from this?” Kazar said, “You can see a contrast between what the leaders of the FN are really thinking and what they show us.”
“This is actually the strength of the National Front: They understand that if they want to win, they have to choose their words. But you see here what the members are really thinking.”
Karim Emile Bitar, director of Paris-based international relations think tank the Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques (IRIS), told Al Jazeera that “Marine Le Pen has been trying for the past few years to completely rebrand the National Front to make it more like a mainstream party, rather than an extreme party of agitators.”
And polls show it may be working, as austerity measures and an ever-faltering economy have disenfranchised many from the ruling Socialist Party, Kazar said.
“People see the leftist government hasn’t dealt well with the crisis, so more and more people are moving toward the National Front,” he said.
A survey conducted by news channel BFM TV and pollster CSA revealed Wednesday that one in two French nationals see Marine Le Pen, president of the far-right National Front, as “the strongest opposition” to sitting French President Francois Hollande and his Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
"Not all FN voters are racists. Many are underprivileged people who want to register a protest vote," Bitar said.
Regardless of her party's shift in tone, Le Pen has made some of her stances on immigrants clear.
Le Pen told Le Monde newspaper late last year that she "would kick out all the foreign fundamentalists. All of them! We know who they are.”