Le Pen to lead troubled French far-right

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Jean-Marie Le Pen, the 80-year old historic leader of the Front National, the French nationalist party, has announced his candidacy for the June European elections, hinting at his possible future retirement from politics after dominating the far-right for over thirty years.

Speaking in Marseilles on Sunday (8 February), Le Pen announced that he would lead the Front National list in South Eastern France for the European elections this year and the 2010 regional elections as well.

Despite recent electoral setbacks, Le Pen is confident about the June poll, suggesting that the economic recession would encourage voters to support extreme parties.

“We are going to have results that will surprise more than a few,” said the historic far-right leader, who announced his intention to step down as party leader in September last year.

“At the European elections, we have always made 10 to 11%. We will be in those waters and maybe more, taking the crisis into account and the impact it will have on the opinion,” he said, according to AFP.

Le Pen shocked France and Europe when he reached the second stage run-off during the presidential race in 2002, riding on a wave of popular resentment against lax immigration policies. But he came a mere fourth in the 2007 poll, and his party suffered a big defeat in the subsequent Parliament elections, when it was unable to send a single MP to the assembly.

Since then, the Front National has been embroiled in financial difficulties and divided over the question of its future leadership. In September last year, Le Pen announced he would step down as party leader and put forward his daughter, Marine, as his successor. But the nomination was contested internally, leading to bitter infighting among party members and throwing the party into existential doubt.

“It is reasonable to think that these will be my last elections, barring extraordinary circumstances,” Le Pen said, in a sign that a page may soon be turned in French politics.

The party will hold a “grand European convention” with all its candidates for the European elections on 14-15 March in Arras. The convention will centre on “the return of nations”.

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