Le Pen, a trained lawyer, succeeded her father Jean-Marie Le Pen as leader of the far right National Front in January 2011.
She was determined to move the party her father founded in 1972 further toward the mainstream and away from what was widely perceived as xenophobic rhetoric.
As the youngest of three daughters, Marine Le Pen learned early on in life what it meant to be closely associated with the National Front leader, arguably France’s most hated man. Her family home was targeted in a bomb attack in 1976, when she was eight years old.
Her parents divorced when she was a teenager, and she did not speak to her mother for 15 years following the separation in 1984. When she was 18, Marine Le Pen joined her father’s party.
A fierce nationalist and critic of capitalism, Le Pen has been able to use the euro zone debt crisis to her advantage and has called for France to leave the euro.
She combines a traditional right-wing anti-immigration stance with left-wing politics, calling for the nationalization of health care, banks and other services which she says should be protected from the private sector’s desire for profits.
Her father surprised France in 2002 by coming second in the first round of the presidential elections. Few people expect Marine Le Pen to win France’s 2012 elections, but she poses a considerable threat to draw votes away from Sarkozy.
FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, Parti Socialiste
Born as the son of a doctor in Rouen, north-western France, Hollande was active in student politics and joined France’s PS, or socialist party, in 1979.