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I have read that Marine Le Pen has announced that she will momentarily step aside from her role as the leader of France's Front National (FN) political party.

How does this have any relevance for the current presidential elections?

It is mentioned in the article that she has based her decision for the move on her conviction that

the president must bring together all of the French people

but isn't that true anyway?

  • 1
    Could be that she's trying to get others to stop thinking of the presidential election as party-based, and rather focus on the person, eh? – Seth Apr 25 '17 at 10:58
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    @Seth are you suggesting that when in office, presidents completely forget the party from which they come from? why do they claim to represent a party at all, then? – Federico Apr 25 '17 at 11:04
  • No, definitely not. But given the bad blood between the opposing parties I can fully understand this move by MLP, as it's probably supposed to signalize unity. – Seth Apr 25 '17 at 11:06
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    If she really said monentarily stepping aside, that means she admits defeat in the 2nd round, doesn't she? (This implies she will come back as a leader after loosing the election) – Bregalad Apr 25 '17 at 13:03
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    @Seth What's unusual? I don't think a sitting president has been party leader during the current constitution. Some resigned before the campaign started, some waited until the day after the election. Resigning between the two rounds is new, I think — she's implicitly saying that she's now sure to be elected. As for focusing on the person rather than the party, Le Pen has never been about that. Rather less than most. Whether she's the formally head of the party or pretending not to be, she embodies the Front National. – Gilles Apr 25 '17 at 22:30
25

Adrien's answer has a lot of merits. It is indeed a marketing strategy, especially done at this moment (between the two rounds).

It can also be said that this is a French tradition: the President is the President of all French people, designated to lead them all and serve their interest, and not only the supporters of the winning party.

This comes from Charles de Gaulle, the founder of the Vth Republic and the current French constitution (established in 1958), that the French President should be above all parties. Here is an abstract of his Speech of Bayeux in June 1946, where he exposes his vision of the role of the President (translation is mine):

C’est donc du chef de l’État, placé au-dessus des partis, élu par un collège qui englobe le Parlement, mais beaucoup plus large et composé de manière à faire de lui le président de l’Union française en même temps que celui de la République, que doit procéder le pouvoir exécutif.

Translation:

It is therefore the head of state, placed above the parties, elected by a college which encompasses the Parliament, but much broader and composed as to make him the President of the French Union, as well as the President of the Republic, from which must emanate the executive power.

As previous recent examples, you can consider:

  1. Francois Mitterand, first secretary of the Socialist Party until January 24, 1981, before becoming President on May 14, 1981.
  2. Jacques Chirac was President of the RPR (Rassemblement pour la Republique, Rally for the Republic) until November 4,1994, before being elected President on May 7, 1995.
  3. Nicolas Sarkozy, president of UMP (Union pour la Majorite Presidentielle -Union for the Presidential Majority- the new name of the RPR from 2002) until May 14, 2007, before becoming President on May 16, 2007.

It should be noted that, as member of the UMP/RPR, Chirac and Sarkozy considered themselves as de Gaulle's political heirs. On the other hand, Mitterand was a strong opponent of de Gaulle.

As for Marine Le Pen, this is probably the right timing to do so. Observers of the politics in France often claim that French people "choose in the first round, and eliminate in the second round". After gathering enough supporters in the first round to stay in the competition, she needs now to convince the voters of the candidates that failed to vote for her.

Her move is a way to give her a more universal stature. In practice, does it has a lot of effect? My personal opinion is that no one cares...

  • As a matter of fact, the UMP was called "Union pour la Majorite Presidentielle" for only a few month before becoming "Union pour un Mouvement Populaire" – yan yankelevich Apr 26 '17 at 12:58
12

This is a marketing strategy in order to gather more people because the NF is something that still scares and worries a lot of people. A similar fact was the removal of her family name from her campaign posters to dissociate from her father and soften her image. This also give her more freedom and let her the possibility to amend her project to rally more people.

  • 2
    But her real name is Iorio (using her last husband's name), not Le Pen, so she could just use that if she really wanted to distance her from her father. – Bregalad Apr 25 '17 at 11:35
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    @Bregalad In France, women do not take their husband's surname, they keep their maiden name. – walen Apr 25 '17 at 13:32
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    But this is a recent law (...) According to Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maiden_and_married_names#France), women keeping their maiden names has been the law since 1789. I can concede that it was (...) passed by feminists and socio-egalitarists, if you want to look at the French Revolution like that, but it's not exactly a "recent" law. You have a point in that she could have easily used her husband's name if she wanted to; my only complain being that is not her "real" name as you said. – walen Apr 25 '17 at 14:42
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    @walen: To be specific. In France women do not have to take their husband names; they may retain their maiden name, take their husband name, or compose both. However, traditionally women do take their husband name, and may or may not revert to their maiden name in case of divorce (if they wish to keep their former husband name they have to ask for his approval as far as I know). Source: French, with a divorced mother. – Matthieu M. Apr 25 '17 at 15:41
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    @NajibIdrissi: I'm sorry I was not more explicit. Indeed we have two names: the "nom de naissance" (which is the family name on your birth certificate, and hard to change) and the "nom d'usage" (which is the name you want others to use). In general, when French talk about "name" or "surname" we generally mean "nom d'usage" since this is the day-to-day name you go by. – Matthieu M. Apr 26 '17 at 9:12
4

Like @adrien54 said, it is mostly a marketing strategy without much consequencies. She has 13 days to convince people to vote for her and she has a lot to do in order to beat Emmanuel Macron who is, at the moment, expected to get around 60-70% in the second round. She has to somehow do some pretty good 'PR' tactics in order to succeed.

That action intend to make her close to the people, leaving the political party aside in order to appear like the people's candidate. She also want to blur the bad reputation that the NF has with a lot of french people. That is also a way to portrait Emmanuel Macron as the candidate from the current system which she criticizes.

She will also be able to contest criticism made against her as the leader of the NF. She is not leading the NF anymore. The goal is also to push aside the legacy of the Le Pen name. That name has a truly bad connotation and that is what scares most people.

To conclude, it is more a PR stunt than really anything else. She will most definitely take the leadership back after the elections.

3

In part, that is simply because the FN is less nationally popular than Marine Le Pen herself.

In 2014, FN earned 7% popular vote in elections.

Marine Le Pen is projected to get 30+% vote in direct matchup with Macron. She's far more popular than the National Front itself; therefore she needs to dis-associate herself from the FN to earn broad national vote.

  • 1
    Your link talks about exit polls, which could be biased. In particular, FN voters are less likely to admit openly they belong to this category. – Bregalad Apr 25 '17 at 15:46
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    @Bregalad - the current first round elections seem to indicate that "Shy FN voters" isn't a meaningful factor. Pre-election polls were pretty much on the nose in France this year, surprising everyone (including pollsters :) – user4012 Apr 25 '17 at 15:47

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