Rising political star deals fresh blow to French far-right

Le Pen’s niece niece announces plan to leave politics

PARIS — The party of failed French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen suffered a new jolt on Wednesday as her niece, the country’s youngest lawmaker and an icon of the far right, announced she plans to leave politics.

The decision by Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who represents the National Front’s conservative flank and core values, kicks another block out from under the party, which is looking to remake itself and even change its name.

That job won’t be done in time for next month’s elections for parliament — where the National Front desperately needs a good showing.

Emmanuel Macron, an upstart centrist and the youngest man elected to the presidency, was the victor in Sunday’s presidential election.

France’s constitutional Council on Wednesday announced the official results from the presidential runoff — 20,743,128 votes were cast for Macron and 10,638475 for Le Pen. The abstention rate was 25.4 per cent.

Marine Le Pen took comfort with the number of votes she won, which were a historic high for her party but about half of Macron’s total. She declared the National Front would be the main opposition to Macron’s Republic On the Move.

With a handshake and a “Mr. President” to his successor, Francois Hollande — chief of state until Sunday — signalled the start of a new era in French politics where the new power brokers have all but wiped away politics as usual in favour of movements still in the making — Macron’s and Le Pen’s. Both say they are “neither left nor right.”

On the far left, the Communist Party and the party of defeated presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon are messily divorcing. They campaigned together for Melenchon’s presidential run that saw him surge late in the campaign and get nearly 20 per cent of the first-round vote, narrowly missing a place in the runoff. But they appear increasingly likely to field candidates separately in the legislative voting.

Hollande’s Socialist Party, with a majority in the outgoing parliament, is tumbling into disarray. And the mainstream right is torn between wanting to work with Macron or clip the new president’s wings.

Le Pen’s National Front, meanwhile, is still dealing with its electoral defeat, searching for a road to change, and now this.

National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen was outraged by his granddaughter’s decision to bow out.

“Without the gravest of reasons for this decision, I consider it a desertion,” he told the daily Le Figaro.

The elder Le Pen, kicked out of the party by daughter Marine for repeatedly compromising her efforts to scrub away traces of racism and anti-Semitism from the National Front, has been an influential force on his granddaughter.

Marechal-Le Pen, 27, one of two lawmakers representing the far right, said she won’t be looking to renew her seat representing the southern Vaucluse district, or her role as president of the National Front group in the vast regional council.

In a personal message to her constituents, Marechal-Le Pen cited “personal and political reasons,” her 3-year-old daughter and her wish to gain “legitimacy” for a political future by exiting the orbit they live in.

Politicians are “disconnected from the real” with a lifetime of political mandates and no reality checks with life, she said. That disconnect with the political class has been at the heart of the success of Macron, who formed his movement, Republic On the Move, just over a year ago.

An exit removes her from potential conflict with Marine Le Pen, a scenario that has been building, or any showdown with the National Front’s No. 2, Florian Philippot, who represents left-leaning tendencies.

“As a political leader I profoundly regret Marion’s decision but alas, as a mother, I understand,” Marine Le Pen tweeted.

Marechal-Le Pen avoided shooting poison arrows at Philippot, and she avoided any reference to her aunt.

Tensions with Philippot have percolated, and Marine Le Pen had notified her niece before the presidential election that she was too inexperienced to play a major role in government in the event of a win.

It was not immediately clear who might speak for those in the National Front who relied on Marechal-Le Pen to push the party’s core values like national identity.

The youngest in the Le Pen political clan represented a “hope for the future” of party militants, Jean-Marie Le Pen said, fearing “terrible consequences” for June legislative voting.

One person who may be as crisis-prone as Le Pen is Manuel Valls who served as prime minister under the unpopular Hollande. His bid to join Macron’s party to run for parliament has so far failed, and he could face a disciplinary hearing by his Socialist Party, and eventual exclusion.

___

John Leicester in Paris contributed.

Elaine Ganley, The Associated Press

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