Two days after her aunt Marine Le Pen suffered a relative defeat to neo-liberal banker Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election, National Front, NF, lawmaker Marion Marechal-Le Pen announced Tuesday she is quitting politics — for now.
Marine Le Pen's niece, 27 years old, told Vaucluse Matin daily in a letter to be published Wednesday that she was leaving politics "for some time," officially because she "wishes to work ... (in) the business world" while also spending more time with her young daughter.
As well as leaving parliament, Le Pen is stepping down as opposition leader on the council for the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.
But she insisted that she was not definitively turning her back on political struggle, and the temporary move may be part of a global strategy to reintegrate the party's leadership after the purge, or reshuffle, expected as the consequence of her aunt's presidential defeat last Sunday.
Despite a record score of almost 11 million votes, Le Pen was expected to lose to Macron with a smaller margin — and even projected as France's potential next president in some polls.
“Five years of (former President Francois) Hollande (the least popular French president in history), 300 victims of terror attacks, a disastrous economic situation, unemployment everywhere, very strong identity issues, a divided France, and we only score 21 percent in the first round?” deplored the National Front's vice president Jean-Francois Jalkh according to investigative journal Mediapart.
He also said he was convinced that Le Pen would not have made it to the runoff vote without the indirect help of the terror attack that killed a policeman in central Paris two days before the vote.
Aside from receiving 33.9 percent of votes, her poor performance during the presidential debate that preceded the runoff election disappointed not only the traditional right or undecided voters, but also the supporters and the leadership of her own party.
Another FN leader told Mediapart that before the debate, he “heard right-wing supporters saying everywhere they will vote for Marine. After the debate, in our district, we received mails with FN cards cut in half.”
During the debate, Le Pen was found appallingly bad, focusing for over two hours on bashing her rival Macron with a hysterical tone, according to many commentators, without detailing her own program. Many analysts said that she ruined in one night the efforts of six years of a “de-demonizing” strategy meant to rebrand her xenophobic, divisive party as a "republican" party apt to govern all the French.
Since she took over the party's presidency in 2011, Le Pen implemented a radical shift from the strategy followed so far by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the party in 1972 and stood for the presidency five times. He reached the second-round runoff vote in 2002, where his losing margin to the center-right Jacques Chirac was even greater than the 66 percent to 34 percent margin, which Macron earned over Marine Le Pen on Sunday.
Advised by a former socialist-turned-nationalist Florian Philippot, who became the party's contested number two, Marine Le Pen defended an anti-neoliberal, pro-worker line, insisting on public spending, state interventionism in the economy and an exit from the European Union.
This shift sparked criticisms from within the party, including her father and her niece, who are now suggesting that Marine Le Pen's relative failure last Sunday was partly to be blamed on this anti-European Union, social economic program, alienating her from the conservative vote in the second round.
According to the polls, about 30 percent of the supporters of conservative candidate Francois Fillon in the first round voted for her in the second round.
Although she tried to backtrack from a potential “Frexit” between the two rounds, in a bid to reassure her potential right-wing supporters, a sector of the party's leadership still criticized this measure. Party opponents criticized the way she talked about the subject in the debate, wrongly affirming to Macron that French companies have been able to pay in Euros since 1992.
Anticipating the criticisms, Marine Le Pen already announced “a deep transformation” of the party — a restructuring that has actually been pending for various months — when she acknowledged her defeat on Sunday night. The move means to avoid the implosion of the party, ahead of its congress scheduled in February 2018.
As Marion Marechal Le Pen's strategic disagreements with her aunt are no secret, she may be stepping aside only the time the party's leadership is reshuffled in her favor, and prepare for her political comeback in the close future.