Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France’s right-wing National Front (FN) party, said Monday he is withdrawing from regional elections after an increasingly bitter public dispute with his daughter and current FN leader Marine Le Pen.
The former paratrooper announced the decision in an interview with local newspaper Le Figaro, adding that his granddaughter, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, Marine’s niece, would be best suited to run in his stead for France’s Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. "If she accepts, I think she would head a very good list [of candidates]. She is certainly the best, I am not going to say after me, but she is," he said.
The family rift has been ongoing for years, but came to a head over senior Le Pen’s comments regarding Nazi gas chambers, when he described them as a “detail of history” last week, leading his daughter condemning the statements as “political suicide.”
"His status as honorary president does not give him the right to hijack the National Front with vulgar provocations seemingly designed to damage me but which unfortunately hit the whole movement," she said.
Marine, who took over the FN in 2011, had been trying to persuade her father, who has been convicted of inciting racial hatred, to retire from the regional polls as well as from the party altogether. She has radically changed the FN’s public image, espousing culturally liberal values alongside economic protectionism, opposition to Islam and euro skepticism.
Granddaughter Marion is seen as supportive of the party’s more socially conservative elements, publicly opposing a 2013 law that allowed same-sex marriages in France. By contrast, Marine has courted the LGBT vote, appointing a gay activist as her cultural adviser. Jean-Marie had previously described homosexuality as a “biological and social anomaly,” and declared that “there are no queens in the National Front.”
Marine has also strongly distanced the party from its anti-Semitic elements, condemning hate crimes against Jews and insisting that her party is the only one that can defend French values of secularism and tolerant democracy against Islamization.
Marine’s attempts to rebrand the FN have yielded significant results. The party won control of a dozen municipalities as well as two French Senate seats in 2014 and took 25 percent of the votes in last year’s European Parliament elections. However, it was prevented from taking the lead in the 2015 local elections, losing by a fair margin to the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Marine is widely expected to run for president in 2017, and a January poll suggested that she is the country’s most popular candidate.