PARIS (AP) – French far-right leader Marine Le Pen faces stinging criticism for making her party too dominant, softening its extremist side and ignoring grassroots members, with voices from within and from within the outside warning that it could cost him votes in the presidential election next year. race.
The rumblings intensified after the National Rally failed a week ago in the regional elections, and comes just before the party convention this weekend.
Le Pen is the undisputed boss of the anti-immigration party, and his fortunes are unlikely to change during the two-day event in the southwestern city of Perpignan, hosted by local mayor Louis Aliot – the former Le Pen’s companion and, above all, the party’s best player in last year’s municipal elections. But the results could be uncomfortable, as Le Pen tries to breathe new life into the National Rally.
Critics say Le Pen erased his party’s anti-establishment signature by trying to make it more palatable to the mainstream right. As part of the strategy, she softened edges and worked to remove the stigma of racism and anti-Semitism that has clung to the party after decades under her now ostracized father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. . She even changed the name to Front National, as it was called under her father, who co-founded the party in 1972 and led it for four decades.
“The policy of adaptation, of rapprochement with power, even with the ordinary right, has been severely punished,” said Jean-Marie Le Pen. “(This) was a political error and translates into electoral failure, and possibly electoral failures,” he added, referring to the outcome of the regional elections and the 2022 presidential vote.
The provocative patriarch, now 93, has been kicked out in a bid to bolster the party’s respectability, but his criticisms mirror those of more moderate members who say his daughter has muddied the message.
Her goal is to reach the second round of the presidential race in 10 months with more success than in 2017, when she reached the final round but lost to centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Candidates for the National Rally – including several originally from the majority right – failed in the 12 French regions in the elections last Sunday marked by a record abstention with only one in three voters voting. Polls had suggested that the party, which has never led a region, would be victorious in at least one. Instead, he lost nearly a third of his regional advisers, in a vote seen as essential to planting the local roots needed for the presidential race – a task that some say has been overlooked.
“It is the local elections which are the launching pad for the rocket” which could take Marine Le Pen to the presidential palace, said Romain Lopez, mayor of the small southwestern town of Moissac, in an interview. “Today, we look like eternal seconds. It may … demobilize the electorate of the National Rally for the presidential elections.
Some local elected officials have resigned with disgust since the defeat of the regional elections, including the delegate from the south of Hérault, Bruno Lerognon.
In a bitter letter to Le Pen, posted on Facebook, Lerognon blasted his boss’s strategy to attract voters from other parties as “absurd”. He said members of the party’s local federation had been “treated odiously” – excluded from running for regional elections in favor of foreigners. Cronyism had “rotten” the local far-right scene, he wrote, alluding to long-standing criticism of the ruling clans within the National Rally whose voices are decisive. Le Pen replaced him a day later.
In western France, the four members of a small local federation resigned between rounds of regional elections. None of the four were represented on local electoral rolls – “sidelined,” as they claimed, by superiors elsewhere. They lamented a “losing strategy” born at the party congress in Lille in 2018, when Le Pen first proposed changing the party’s name and severed remaining ties with his father.
A nationally recognized party figure, European Parliament lawmaker Gilbert Collard, criticized the openness strategy as “a trap”. He said he would not attend the convention.
Lopez, the mayor of Moissac, will be there, hoping that he and others with complaints will be heard.
Lopez, 31, is a supporter of raising Le Pen’s outreach to other parties and attributes his own broad appeal to voters for his election last year, in an upheaval for the previously left-wing town.
But the party hierarchy is disconnected from its rare, but vital local bases, Lopez said. National officials treat local representatives like children “and dictate everything, how to communicate, build a local campaign,” Lopez said. “And by imposing everything from the top, you have a national strategy … disconnected from the reality of each city or region.”
He doesn’t know if the party will give local officials like him speaking time beyond his five minutes at a roundtable, but hopes to be heard.
“When you are satisfied with yourself, when you refuse to look at imperfections, you go right into the wall,” he said.