Why Marine Le Pen is stepping back from the far-right party that made her name

Italian Lega Nord (Northern League) secretary, Matteo Salvini, French far-right Front National party president Marine Le Pen and Dutch far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders. Picture: Getty Images

On Monday evening, one day after the first round of the French elections, Marine Le Pen unexpectedly revealed she would temporarily step aside as president of her own party, the Front National (FN).

The announcement, made during an interview with French broadcaster France2, caused some confusion as it was not immediately clear what her withdrawal from the far-right frontline would mean practically.

Here are some possible explanations for Le Pen’s decision as she bids to become France’s next president.

A ‘marketing coup’

One theory is that Le Pen’s decision is largely cosmetic. The French press has been quick to label it a “marketing coup,” with no real implications at all.

Such a move had been suggested to her by people inside her party for a while, according to Le Monde. It is largely symbolic as she will only be temporarily replaced by vice-president, Jean-François Jalkh, for two weeks, allowing her to concentrate solely on the presidential campaign.

“I will feel freer, I will be above the partisan considerations, it is an important act,” Le Pen said.

“It seemed essential to me to take leave of the presidency of the FN. This evening, I am no longer the president of the FN, I am the presidential candidate, the one who wants to bring together all the French people around the project of hope, prosperity, and security.”

Freedom to work with other right-leaning parties

Another suggestion is that Le Pen’s distance from FN will make it easier for her to build bridges with members of other right-leaning parties.

She said during the interview that there were “contacts” with some members of the conservative Les Républicains party and that she was also hoping to collaborate with other presidential candidates from smaller parties.

Many commentators think she has reached a ceiling in the first round of the elections and that she won’t be able to gather enough votes to beat centrist Emmanuel Macron in the second round.

Le Pen distancing herself from antisemitism and racism

Stepping back from FN will give her more freedom to change certain aspects of her project and to rally support she needs, according to people close to the far-right politician who spoke to Le Monde.

It will also allow her to dodge any questions attacking her as the head of the FN and will enable her to present her programme as her ideas rather than her party’s.

It might also be one last attempt to distance herself from the antisemitism and racism associated with her party and her father Jean-Marie Le Pen — an image she has worked tirelessly to erase since taking over from him as party leader in 2011.

Le Pen is confident that she can — and will — win the second round and that she wants to be the president of all French people.

She told France2: “I think that we are approaching the decisive moment, I have always considered that the President of the Republic is the President of all the French, and as such they must gather all the French. It is a profound conviction, we must now pass from words to deeds.”

Le Pen appears to have a mountain to climb, however. The polls still point to a landslide victory for Macron over Le Pen in the second round of the election, which will take place on May 7.

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