Marine Le Pen, the daughter of France’s extreme right-wing icon Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been chosen to lead the country’s National Front political party, succeeding her father who led the group for almost 40 years.

According to party officials, she has won the support of about two-thirds of the party’s membership.

Marine, 42, easily defeated her rival, Bruno Gollnisch, long-time aide to her father.

Jean-Marie, whose party has advocates a strident anti-immigration platform and has been vilified as a fascist/Nazi-like organization, shocked the French mainstream in 2002 when he finished second in the first round of presidential elections, defeating centre-left candidate Lionel Jospin. (Jean-Marie subsequently lost in the second round to the incumbent candidate Jacques Chirac).

Ms Le Pen has said that she wants to increase her party’s appeal to the public by easing its anti-Islam rhetoric.

A recent poll indicated her party could place third in the presidential elections to be held in 2012 with an impressive 13 percent of the vote.

I didn't take to politics readily, Marine told the BBC. But then as the daughter of Le Pen, it is probably unavoidable that I entered the fray. Politics swallowed me up. Now it is my desire to carry on my father's fight. I want to strive for what he believed in, what the French people really want. And if I don't do it, I don't think anyone else is capable.

However, as a twice-divorced supporter of abortion rights, Marine is disdained by hard-core Catholics within her party.

While Marine, a member of the European parliament and regional councilor, presents a more “modern” and “liberated” face for her party, she is not too dissimilar from the hard-liners in her party.

Among the party’s proposals is the “peaceful” deportation of France’s Muslim immigrants, Europe’s largest such population, numbering at least five-million, mostly people from Algeria and their French-born children and grandchildren.

She has the same ideas about immigration as her father, said Nonna Mayer of the Sciences Po University. She thinks there are two kinds of French people: the 'real French' and the others. But she packages this message in a different, softer way. She is very popular and very good with the media.

Given the declining popularity of current President Nicholas Sarkozy, the spectre of Marine challenging him in the 2012 elections makes the political establishment extremely uncomfortable.

I am in it to win, to win the presidential elections. said Marine. That's the goal of any political party, to come to power to implement its ideas. So we will fight. And I think we stand a good chance of reaching the second round. It is why the French political class is so fidgety. Moreover, the image of the Front National has changed in the minds of the French people in the past ten years. The numbers prove it.