France's far-right FN grapples with departure of rising star

FN leader Marine Le Pen and her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen at a political rally in 2015. The younger Ms Le Pen is giving up her seat in Parliament and withdrawing from politics indefinitely.
FN leader Marine Le Pen and her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen at a political rally in 2015. The younger Ms Le Pen is giving up her seat in Parliament and withdrawing from politics indefinitely.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

PARIS • France's far-right National Front (FN) sought yesterday to paper over internal divisions exposed by the withdrawal of one of its most high-profile figures, the telegenic niece of leader Marine Le Pen.

Ms Marion Marechal-Le Pen, 27, said she will give up her seat in Parliament as well as her position as opposition leader on the council for the southern Provence-Alpes- Cote d'Azur region, a bastion of the far right.

The withdrawal deals a blow to the anti-immigration party as France gears up for legislative elections next month, when the FN hopes to become the leading opposition force.

Ms Marechal-Le Pen, who is divorced and has a toddler, said she was leaving politics indefinitely to spend more time with her family and to work in the private sector.

Ms Marine Le Pen sought to play down the decision, tweeting: "As a political leader I deeply regret Marion's decision, but alas, as a mother, I understand."

And Mr Nicolas Bay, the party's No. 3, urged FN stalwarts to "dispel erroneous interpretations" of Ms Marechal-Le Pen's departure, calling the decision "above all personal", according to an internal memo seen by AFP.

The legislative elections will determine France's new political landscape after both the traditional left and right were sidelined from the presidential race and Ms Marine Le Pen was roundly defeated by centrist Emmanuel Macron.

Ms Marechal-Le Pen had been seen as an asset in the FN's bid to attract support from the traditional right wing whose scandal-hit candidate Francois Fillon - like her a devout Catholic - crashed out in the first round.

France's youngest MP was also seen as a potential successor to her aunt as FN leader, but one with more traditional right-wing, Catholic views on social issues such as abortion and homosexuality that played especially well in the south.

Without her, "we will lose a huge number of supporters and members who are there because of her", an FN regional councillor said, calling it a "massive upheaval".

Ms Marine Le Pen's 33.9 per cent showing against Mr Macron weakened her standing in the party, even though she racked up an historic 10.6 million votes.

FN co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine's estranged father and Marion's grandfather, decried what he called a "desertion" by "one of the movement's most beloved and admired stars".

Relations have long been strained between Ms Marechal-Le Pen and her aunt, who has worked to attract a wider base by softening the party's image and jettisoning its anti-gay and anti-abortion positions.

Ms Marechal-Le Pen became the youngest member of France's National Assembly aged just 22 in 2012.

She insisted that she was not definitively turning her back on political struggle. "I shall never be able to remain indifferent to the suffering of compatriots," she wrote in a letter to the Vaucluse Matin daily.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2017, with the headline 'France's far-right FN grapples with departure of rising star'. Print Edition | Subscribe