Beaten but not broken, Le Pen eyes parliamentary vote
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Defeated in Sunday’s vote, France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen is now positioning herself as “the primary opposition force” against President-elect Emmanuel Macron’s policies.
Just minutes after polls closed in France’s major cities with early results showing she had lost the 2017 presidential race, Le Pen took to the stage to deliver a concession speech.
“France has voted for continuity,” she noted in a tone that implied her defeat was clearly no surprise. Having established that, Le Pen was quick to set the stage for her next political act.
"The National Front, which has embarked on a strategy of alliances, must also profoundly renew itself in order to live up to this historic opportunity and the expectations of the French," she said. "I therefore promise to undertake a thorough transformation of our movement to constitute a new political force.”
In an interview with FRANCE 24 shortly after Le Pen delivered her concession speech, National Front interim leader Steeve Briois conceded that the party needed reforms.
“Marine Le Pen indeed mentioned the fact that we need to transform the National Front -- after the [June] legislative elections, let’s make that clear. After the legislative elections, we will be opening our movement to so many of our compatriots who don’t actually understand our approach now. We will change things, perhaps even change the name of the party.”
New name, old leadership
Since Le Pen’s decisive loss in Sunday’s poll, a number of senior National Front officials – including the party’s deputy leader, Florian Philippot -- have repeated their intention to change the name of the party founded by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Le Pen received a mere 33.9 percent of the votes in the presidential runoff, and in order to turn her party into “the first force of opposition to the new president,” as she promised on Sunday night, her party will have to make substantive gains in the legislative elections next month.
Le Pen’s defeat has also reopened speculations of a divide within the party between followers of her political vision and a more hardline right camp, led by her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.
In an interview with France 2 television, Maréchal-Le Pen admitted that: "There are clearly lessons to be learned."
When asked about likely challenges to the party’s leadership, Briois however dismissed the reports as baseless. “No, no, you’ll hear criticism in every political party. You’ll always find some people who do not agree. But on the whole, the greatest majority of the members of the National Front see nobody but Marine Le Pen leading the party in the future battles,” he said. “There’s absolutely no challenging of our leader. The leadership is in the hands of Marine Le Pen.”
Le Pen senior blasts party position on euro
The National Front has long been run as a Le Pen fiefdom, but there have been divisions within the family. Following Sunday’s vote, those differences seemed stark.
In an interview with French radio station RTL, Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, attributed the defeat to Philippot, considered the main instigator of the party’s anti-EU position.
"I think we have to remain faithful to the fundamentals of the National Front," said the senior Le Pen.
"It’s the problems of the euro, Europe [and] retirement at 60 years which undercut the campaign of Mme. Le Pen, it seems to me," he said.
"She made the campaign all about her friends," he added, before noting that if the party was going to have a name change, it would not be up to Philippot or his daughter, but for a future party congress to decide.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)