Analysis

Le Pen Family Feud Deteriorates Into Night of Long Knives After Crushing Loss in French Election

Father and party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, banished by his daughter, calls election result her ‘disgraceful failure’

PARIS – Only six minutes after the initial results were announced Sunday evening, Marine Le Pen called Emmanuel Macron to congratulate him on his election as France’s next president. Five minutes later, she announced before thousands of supporters that there would be “deep changes” in the structure of her party, which could result in the dissolution of the National Front and the forming of a new movement, one that would clearly seek to move toward the center and try to replace the Republican right.

Le Pen, who had banished her father, Jean-Marie, from the party he himself had started, knows well that she can expect a vicious struggle in the party ranks. Senior National Front officials had openly criticized her even before the results were known, beginning after last Wednesday’s disastrous televised debate, which according to exit polls cost her tens of thousands of votes.

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Jean-Marie Le Pen didn’t wait long to express his opinion. Half an hour after the results were announced, he told a radio interviewer that the outcome was his daughter’s “disgraceful failure,” and called on the party’s director-general, Florent Philippot, to resign.

French far-right National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen delivers a speech in front of the statue of Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) as part of the National Front's annual May Day ceremonies in Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
GONZALO FUENTES/REUTERS

Polls after the first round of voting two weeks ago were giving Le Pen at least 40 percent of the vote and the low voter turnout should have worked in her favor. But the polls after Wednesday’s debate showed a 3-percentage-point shift, and the polls over the weekend, which could not be published but whose results were given to the parties and to the media, showed a continuing drop.

Marion Marechal-Le Pen, granddaughter of the deposed party leader and Marine’s niece, was well aware of how the wind was blowing and last Thursday declared, “A result of 40 percent would be an amazing result,” locking her aunt into an expectation that she knew perfectly well wouldn’t be fulfilled. The younger Le Pen is expected to battle for her place in the party, perhaps even by challenging her aunt’s leadership. This won’t be just a personal-family struggle, but an ideological one; Marion represents the radical Christian wing of the party, which her aunt tried to hide from the voters as she presented the party as a broad and more legitimate national movement.