France’s far-right party elects new leader to replace Le Pen

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An ambitious 27-year-old is vying against a longtime heavyweight in France’s main far-right party to replace Marine Le Pen as leader of the resurgent National Rally in a contest culminating at a party congress on Saturday.

The congress comes as the anti-immigration party seeks to capitalize on a breakthrough in this year’s parliamentary election.

He is also facing widespread public anger over a racist comment this week from a National Rally member in parliament that cast doubt on years of efforts to soften the party’s image.

Jordan Bardella, the youngest candidate and an outspoken member of the European Parliament, is widely tipped to win and become the first person to lead the party not named after Le Pen since its inception half a century ago.

Marine Le Pen said she wanted to focus on leading the party’s 89 lawmakers in the National Assembly and should still wield significant power in the party leadership.

Bardella has been the interim president of the National Rally since Le Pen entered the presidential race last year.

His opponent Louis Aliot, 53, has been mayor of Perpignan and senior official of the National Rally for two decades. He has been a strong supporter of Le Pen’s rise and is a former romantic partner of hers.

Le Pen lost to Emmanuel Macron in his third bid for the presidency this year, but won 44% of the vote, his highest score yet.

Two months later, his party won the most seats to date in the lower house of parliament. He hailed the growing support for far-right parties elsewhere in Europe, and notably in neighboring Italy.

Le Pen went to great lengths to remove the stigma of racism and anti-Semitism that clung to the far-right party, to soften its image and broaden its following.

She notably distanced herself from her now ostracized father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who co-founded the party then called the National Front.

“Bardella is part of a generation of young people, very young, who got involved behind Marine Le Pen in the 2010s and who probably would not have joined the National Rally at the time of Jean-Marie Le Pen”, said political scientist Jean-Yves Camus. told the Associated Press.

Bardella supports the party’s anti-immigration and protectionist line.

“Progress today is called localism. It’s called defending borders.

It’s called protectionism,” he told the AP in 2019, ahead of the European elections, rejecting what he called “mass immigration.” On the other hand, Aliot, the current vice president of the party, argued that the National Rally needed to reshape itself to make it more palatable to the mainstream right.

According to Camus, the party’s vote will not challenge Le Pen’s leadership.

“The first impact of this election is that Le Pen will not have to deal with the party and will be able to concentrate on the essentials, leading the party’s legislators in the National Assembly,” he explained.

For the past few months, 40,000 party members have been voting online to elect the new party leader. The results will be announced Saturday at the convention.

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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