France’s far right grapples with departure of rising star

Gina Doggett, Guillaume Daudin –

France’s far-right National Front on Wednesday sought 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.
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.
Marechal-Le Pen, the divorced mother of a toddler, said she was leaving politics indefinitely to spend more time with her family and work in the private sector.
And Nicolas Bay, the party’s number three, urged party stalwarts to “dispel erroneous interpretations” of 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 Marine Le Pen was roundly defeated by centrist Emmanuel Macron.
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 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 rightwing, 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.
Marine Le Pen’s 33.9 per cent showing against Macron weakened her standing in the party, even though she racked up 10.6 million votes.
Social networks revealed anxiety among party supporters over Marechal-Le Pen’s departure, with one Twitter user fretting over the FN’s “new line”, adding: “In my opinion there won’t be many values left.”
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”.— AFP