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National Front founder Le Pen threatens to start rival party

© JOEL SAGET / AFP | France's far-right Front National (FN) party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen poses in Saint-Cloud, west of Paris, on January 27, 2016

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-02-23

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder and former leader of the far-right National Front (FN) who was expelled from the party by his daughter last year, threatened again on Tuesday to start a new far-right party in France.

This time the threat came in the form of an open letter to his daughter and current party president Marine Le Pen posted on his website. The letter called for an immediate end to what the elder Le Pen described as a “rupture” in the party that he said could undermine his daughter’s candidacy in the upcoming 2017 presidential elections.

The letter suggested that divisions exist between those who want to continue the party’s efforts to mainstream its image and those farther on the right. According to Le Pen, this lack of unity may inspire candidates from within the FN to run against Marine in 2017 and threaten her chances to make it to the second round of elections.

“We have to close this rupture as soon as possible,” Jean-Marie Le Pen wrote to his daughter. “It is already inspiring the ambitions of candidates who, by their mere presence, could threaten your chances to make it into the second round [of the presidential race].”

“If our efforts don’t succeed, keeping in mind the terrible dangers that threaten our party, we will not back down and we will regretfully organise ourselves outside of the National Front,” Le Pen said at the end of his letter.

Le Pen described party members who pushed for reforms to the FN’s image as “nibbling rats”, referring to an FN summit held in February at which various ways to continue the party’s image revamp were floated. Suggestions included a possible change to the party’s name and an elimination of its traditional May parade honouring Joan of Arc.

This is not the first time Jean-Marie Le Pen has threatened to start a new far-right party. In August he was expelled from the party he co-founded following repeated statements denying the Holocaust and a long public feud with his daughter. The next month the elder Le Pen suggested that he would start a movement dubbed the "Blue, White and Red Rally" to unify elements of the far right who did not belong to the FN.

Bruno Gollnish, a longtime FN member who is close to Jean-Marie Le Pen, said that would be “sad”, but that he had trouble imagining him starting a new party that could pose a threat to the National Front.

“That said, if patriotic people find themselves irretrievably ostracised from the party, some of them will start to look elsewhere” for representation, Gollnish added.

Nicolas Lebourg, a historian who specialises in the French extreme right, said that Jean-Marie Le Pen may have a certain “paranoia” about rival extreme-right candidates undermining the FN. Since the 1970s, Le Pen has claimed that the French centre-right financed rival far-right candidates to “get in the way” of Le Pen’s campaigns.

A representative from the FN declined to comment on the letter when contacted by FRANCE 24.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2016-02-23

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