Le Pen Quits Party To Distance Herself From Its Extremist Fringe

The far-right candidate temporarily stepped down so, she said, she could represent all French people

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Apr 24, 2017 at 5:14 PM ET

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen announced on Monday that she’s temporarily stepping down as leader of her party, the far-right National Front.

“Tonight, I am no longer the president of the National Front. I am the presidential candidate, the one who wants to gather all the French around a project of hope, of prosperity, of security,” Le Pen said on French public television on Monday.

On Twitter, she said she wants to be the candidate for “all French [people].”

Le Pen and centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron were the two winners in France’s first round of voting Sunday and will face each other in the final run-off on May 7. Macron won 23.86 percent of the votes while Le Pen received 21.43 percent. The third and forth candidates, Francois Fillon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon were not far behind with 19.94 and 19.64 percent of the votes.

Le Pen’s decision is presumably an attempt to distance herself from the National Front party’s fringe and extremist past in order to appeal to a wider range of voters. As a candidate, Le Pen has promised to strictly limit immigration, leave the European Union, establish a national currency, and ban public expressions of religion. Despite her far-right policies, Le Pen has still gone to great lengths to distance herself and her party from its more extremist roots.

In 2015, she even expelled her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the party in 1972, after he made a statement denying the Holocaust. She’s since tried to forge alliances with Jewish communities in France.

Despite this, it seems she hasn’t fully been able to reform the party’s image. Two weeks ago, Le Pen made a statement downplaying France’s role in the Holocaust, which caused outrage among French voters and her political rivals and reignited arguments over the party’s anti-Semitism.

Macron, her opponent, said, “Some have forgotten that Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen.” Historian Valérie Igounet, who published a book on the National Front’s supporters, told Foreign Policy that while the face of the party may have changed, it’s still considered extremist by the majority of French voters. “French citizens are not dupes,” she said.

Meanwhile, not one of Le Pen’s political rivals have called on their supporters to vote for Le Pen. Instead, they’ve largely united against her in support of her opponent, Macron. (The far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who came in fourth place on Sunday, said he would ask his supporters who they prefer.) Polls predict Macron will defeat Le Pen with 60 percent of the votes in the final election round on May 7.