Tactical Le Pen 'steps down' as National Front leader to widen appeal
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French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has announced that she is temporarily stepping down as head of her National Front party.
Monday's move appears to be a way for Le Pen to embrace a wide range of potential voters ahead of the May 7 runoff between herself and Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist who came in first in Sunday's first round.
"Tonight, I am no longer the president of the National Front. I am the presidential candidate," she said on French public television news.
Le Pen has said in the past that she is not a candidate of her party, and made that point when she rolled out her platform in February, saying the measures she was espousing were not her party's, but her own.
Le Pen has worked to bring in voters from the left and right for several years, cleaning up her party's racist, anti-Semitic image to do so.
Final results from the French presidential election's first round show that centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron got nearly 1 million more votes than far-right leader Marine Le Pen, with both advancing to the May 7 runoff.
Tonight's election once again shows that the young *are* open to populism. Le Pen + Melenchon got >50% among the young, <20% among the old. pic.twitter.com/5TN20q8Vyv— Yascha Mounk (@Yascha_Mounk) April 23, 2017
Macron collected 8.66 million votes, or 24.01 percent, while Le Pen garnered 7.68 million votes, or 21.30 percent, according to the official final count published by the Interior Ministry.
For Le Pen, it is the best result ever achieved by her nationalist anti-EU and anti-immigration party the National Front in a French presidential election.
Conservative candidate Francois Fillon got 20.01 percent, and left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, 19.58 percent of the vote. The other seven candidates were far behind.
Turnout was 77.77 percent, the lowest in a French presidential election for 15 years.