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Marine Le Pen steps down as Front National leader and claims to be 'candidate for all French people'

Far-right candidate says she 'can and will win' France's presidential election 

Chloe Farand
Tuesday 25 April 2017 16:13 BST
Marine Le Pen steps down from National Front leadership

Marine Le Pen made the surprise announcement on Monday night that she was stepping down as leader of the Front National, claiming it would allow her to represent better the interests of "all French people".

On the surface, at least, it seemed to change little about her approach to the country's problems. Visiting a wholesale market outside Paris on Tuesday, she declared that under her regime, the government would promote meat and produce reared in France, so "our children take advantage of our healthy, quality products".

"Let's promote the 'eating French' especially in [school] canteens," she said. She was promptly booed by some workers in the fruit and vegetables section.

The far-right candidate has been forced to take drastic action, giving up control of her father's political party, after she scraped through to the second round of the French presidential election nearly one million votes behind centrist Emmanuel Macron - despite leading in polls throughout the campaign.

The manoeuvre will be used to present Ms Le Pen as a unifier, representing not only a political party but the interests of France as a whole.

Speaking to French television channel France 2, she said: “This evening I am no longer the president of the Front National but I am a presidential candidate, a candidate that wishes to unite all French people behind a project of hope, of prosperity and security.”

Ms Le Pen headed the Front National since 2011, when she took over from 2002 presidential runner-up Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Mr Le Pen and his daughter have laid bare their political differences in recent years, and on Tuesday he was again critical of her leadership. Speaking to France Inter radio, he said he still backed her for president - but that he would have run a more "Trump-style" campaign himself, one that would have been "very aggressive against those who are responsible for the country's decadency".

For the Front National, Ms Le Pen's announcement was only a technicality. The party’s vice president, the MEP Jean-François Jalkh, will assume the function of leader at least until the end of the election, but is known for his loyalty to the Le Pen family.

Ms Le Pen will now turn her full attention to chasing votes both from the right and the far-left, if she is to have any hope of entering the Élysée Palace.

Despite polls giving Ms Le Pen only 35 to 40 per cent of the votes in the second round, against more than 60 per cent for Mr Macron, she told French TV: “We can win and I am going to go even further to say we will win.”

Ms le Pen said it was “perfectly feasible” to catch up the “10 little points” between her and Mr Macron.

She called the results of the first round of voting “historic”, despite some of her supporters expressing disappointment in the second-place finish.

Her first goal will be to reach out to supporters of right-wing candidates Francois Fillon and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, followed by the far-left voters who backed Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Ms Le Pen said she wanted to talk to Mr Dupont-Aignan, who won nearly five per cent of the first-round vote and has not said which side he would back in the next.

“His platform is extremely close to ours. Patriots should come together to fight those who promote unbridled globalisation,” she said.

She also said there were “ongoing contacts” with Les Republicains party, despite the fact Mr Fillon clearly called on his supporters to vote for Mr Macron in the election's second round.

For Ms Le Pen, relinquishing the Front National leadership can be seen as a logical next step in a deliberate attempt to move away from her father’s track record of Holocaust denial, anti-Semitic and climate-sceptic views through a process known in France as “dediabolisation”, which means “casting out the devil”.

In recent campaigns, Ms Le Pen even dropped her surname from posters and leaflets to be known only as Marine, accompanied with the slogan "In the name of the people".

Ms Le Pen is not standing as an independent candidate since she still belongs to the Front National, but she is giving herself more space to manoeuvre as she is about to face Mr Macron, who himself belongs to a movement - and En Marche! is just one year old - rather than a traditional party.

At a time when the French electorate has sneered at the traditional left and right-wing parties, Ms Le Pen’s tactical move plays right into the demand for a new kind of politics.

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