Le Pen ousted from the party he founded

Mr Jean-Marie Le Pen says he is the ''victim of an ambush''.
Mr Jean-Marie Le Pen says he is the ''victim of an ambush''. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Ms Marine Le Pen has tried to soften the National Front's image.
Ms Marine Le Pen has tried to soften the National Front's image. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

National Front now led by daughter Marine loses patience over inflammatory comments

PARIS • Mr Jean-Marie Le Pen, France's elderly, far-right master provocateur, has been booted out of the National Front (FN) that he founded after a high-profile feud with his daughter and party leader Marine Le Pen.

In a dramatic move on Thursday, the FN's executive committee questioned the 87-year-old for three hours before voting to exclude him over inflammatory comments that had proven too much for Ms Le Pen, pushing him out of a party that he led for almost four decades.

But the ageing politician immediately announced his intention to appeal against the decision in court.

"There is indignation, there is sadness, it's always trying when one has the feeling of not having made any mistake, of having expressed one's opinion as a politician," he told iTele television. "I'm a father, so when unfair attacks come from my family, from my daughter, I am more affected than if it were an unknown opponent."

He said he felt he was the "victim of an ambush".

A gifted orator with a taste for controversy, Mr Le Pen has for years been an irritating thorn in the side of his daughter, who took over the party from him in 2011 and tried to steer it away from the overt racism and anti-Semitism of its past.

The final straw came in April when the elder Le Pen rehashed familiar comments about the Nazi gas chambers being a "detail" of history and said that France should get along with Russia to save the "white world".

Ms Le Pen openly split with her father, saying he was committing "political suicide", and later suspended him from the party.

But the octogenarian firebrand showed little interest in going quietly, successfully challenging his suspension in court and barging onto the stage during a major FN rally in May. In a sign of how deep the rift with his daughter has become, he told a newspaper last Sunday that he would not vote for her in the 2017 presidential election.

Ms Le Pen and her deputy Florian Philippot stayed away from the party's executive committee meeting to ensure "total impartiality".

"Jean-Marie Le Pen kicked off a process of which he knew the outcome by multiplying mistakes over many weeks, which could only lead to this kind of decision," Ms Le Pen said in a statement after the decision was announced.

The former Foreign Legion-naire's inflammatory speeches had made him the figurehead of France's far right since he co-founded the FN in 1972. And even after he handed over the reins to his daughter, he continued to come out with controversial statements, such as asserting that the Ebola virus could "solve" the immigration problem within three months.

The FN has been on something of a roll, having achieved unprecedented election results in the past two years, notably coming first in European polls last year.

A struggling economy and growing distaste for mainstream politics have helped the FN, with Ms Le Pen skilfully repackaging the party's traditional dislike of outsiders as opposition to the European Union and defence of secularism.

But Mr Le Pen has been an awkward reminder of the group's roots - a "parasite" on the party, says Mr Philippot - when it should be focusing on regional polls in December.

Always keen to position himself outside the mainstream, Mr Le Pen's provocative rhetoric nonetheless brought the party to the forefront of politics after a slow start in the 1970s - even reaching the second round of presidential elections in 2002. He can still count on support from a die-hard rump within the party, and the man who survived the brutal wars of Indochina and Algeria is a born fighter.

In a newspaper column this week, he said: "One thing is certain... the political line that I have represented for decades will not disappear from the national scene."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'Le Pen ousted from the party he founded'. Print Edition | Subscribe