National Front suspends Jean-Marie Le Pen

2015-05-04 22:03
Front national honorary president Jean-Marie Le Pen walks next to a campaign poster of his daughter, the president of the party Marine Le Pen in Agen, before a press conference on January 12 2014. (Mehdi Fedouach, AFP)

Front national honorary president Jean-Marie Le Pen walks next to a campaign poster of his daughter, the president of the party Marine Le Pen in Agen, before a press conference on January 12 2014. (Mehdi Fedouach, AFP)

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Paris - French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was suspended on Monday from the National Front party he built into a political force over four decades after a series of controversial remarks about Jews and Nazis put him on the fast track to disgrace.

The party's executive bureau met on Monday and decided to suspend Le Pen's membership in the party he co-founded, pending a party-wide vote on abolishing the position of honorary president he's held for five years.

In a statement, the party said a majority of its leadership supports doing away with the honorary presidency, held by 86-year-old Le Pen since 2011.

The move will be put to a vote of all party members within three months, the statement said.

Le Pen has been a thorn in the side of National Front leaders practically since he turned over the presidency to his ambitious daughter, Marine Le Pen, in 2011. She has campaigned to transform the anti-immigration party from political pariah to a voter-friendly alternative with her eye on 2017 presidential elections - while keeping a steady focus on traditional party themes such as immigration and security, and railing at what she claims is the "Islamisation" of France.

Before the decision, the party's broader political bureau said it "disapproves the comments made and reiterated by Jean-Marie Le Pen," and affirmed its confidence in his daughter, to ensure that "nothing can divert [the party] from its goal of gaining power in the service of France and the French."

Jean-Marie Le Pen, sharp-tongued as ever as he left a party meeting on Monday, said he had been "repudiated" and wouldn't attend the later meeting of the executive bureau on which he sits.

"The founding president of the National Front considers it undignified to appear," he told iTele TV.

Le Pen insisted he hasn't spoken on behalf of the National Front since handing over the party reins to his daughter in 2011, and said disagreements within any party's ranks is normal.

"We're not a Soviet party. We are not required to have the same ideas on all subjects," he said.

Growth pains

The sanction comes as the elder Le Pen faces criticism for recent remarks minimizing the Holocaust - for which he has been convicted in the past - and for praising French wartime leader Philippe Petain, who collaborated with the Nazis.

Polls have shown rising support for the anti-immigration party, which has made gains in recent French elections.

"I think he should no longer speak in the name of the National Front," Marine Le Pen said Sunday on iTele.

Jean-Marie Le Pen has been forced to abandon his plans to run in regional elections in southern France in December despite his popularity there and his seat on the regional council.

The decision to haul him before a disciplinary committee marks the high-point in the deteriorating relations between Le Pen and his daughter.

It also reflects the turmoil within the National Front, co-founded by Le Pen in 1972, held hostage by a family feud whose political stakes are considerable.

That turmoil veered into near chaos at the party's traditional May Day march to honour its patron saint Joan of Arc. The father-daughter team, usually side-by-side, didn't cross paths - until the elder Le Pen made an unscripted appearance on stage, raised fists clenched in apparent defiance, before Marine Le Pen's speech.

When he laid a wreath at the foot of the gilded Joan of Arc statue, he loudly implored "Help, Joan of Arc!"

The divide between detractors and supporters of Jean-Marie Le Pen is stark.

The old guard at Le Pen's side for decades is scandalised at the idea of punishing their mentor who paved the way for the younger generation in charge today.

"I understand that some would like to see his head on a silver platter like Salome presented the head of John the Baptist," Bruno Gollnisch, a European Parliament lawmaker, said in an interview.

But for him, "There is no way for any kind of sanction or punishment. It is absolutely ridiculous."

There is concern among some that punishing the honorary president could prove a costly political mistake, costing the allegiance of supporters of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is especially popular in southern France.

"In principle, you don't spit on your ancestors. You lean on them," said Michel Masson, 75, who made the trip to Paris for the May Day march from Salon de Provence. "Marine wants power at any price."

Stephane Ravier, a National Front senator and district mayor in Marseille, played down "the agitation."

"We can call this growing pains," he said in an interview.

"Yes, there is an internal quarrel that will end soon, at least I hope," said Ravier, who is close to the senior Le Pen. "We need all the patriots, the new and the old."

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