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Monday, May 8, 2017, 14:48

France's Le Pen vows to overhaul party after presidential election defeat

By Reuters

France's Le Pen vows to overhaul party after presidential election defeat
French far-right presidential candidate Marine le Pen delivers a speech, May 7, 2017 in Paris. French voters elected centrist Emmanuel Macron as the country's youngest president ever on Sunday, delivering a resounding victory to the unabashedly pro-European former investment banker and strengthening France's place as a central pillar of the European Union. (Michel Spingler / AP)
PARIS – Marine Le Pen on Sunday put a brave face on her crushing defeat to Emmanuel Macron in Sunday's presidential election, pledging to overhaul her far-right party and turn it into the main opposition to France's new centrist leader.

Analysts said she looked set to maintain her grip on the National Front (FN), despite criticism from some party members, including her own relatives, over her campaign.

I will propose starting this deep transformation of our movement in order to make a new political force

Marine Le Pen, Leader, National Front

Despite losing to Macron by around 35 percent to 65, Le Pen did nearly twice as well as her father did when he reached the second round of the election in 2002, but fell short of the 40 percent party officials had said would be a success.

The anti-EU, anti-immigration party will now focus on the mid-June parliamentary elections, although Le Pen recognized that the party needs far-reaching change.

In a brief address to supporters who booed Macron's victory and then sadly chanted France's La Marseillaise anthem when the news of Le Pen's defeat emerged, the 48-year-old far-right leader said the National Front (FN) "must deeply renew itself."

"I will propose starting this deep transformation of our movement in order to make a new political force," she added.

It was unclear at this stage what impact the overhaul would have on policy.

FN deputy head Florian Philippot said the new party would not be called the National Front, the party's name for more than four decades. The brand is well known in France and abroad but is very much associated in voters' minds with her maverick father Jean-Marie, who has been convicted several times for incitement to racial hatred.

While Le Pen did not address the question of the party's name, she said she aimed to reach out beyond the current FN and reconstruct the French political landscape around a "patriots" versus "globalists" divide.

But achieving that goal will be no easy task.

Although the National Front can count on a loyal base, it only has two seats in the current lower house of parliament and a poll last week predicted the party would win only around 15-25 seats in the June elections.

"LESSONS TO BE LEARNED"

In a party where the Le Pen family has always called the shots, Le Pen's father Jean-Marie and her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, a rising star and FN lawmaker, said Marine Le Pen's campaign had not been convincing enough and had been undermined by its position on the euro.

A majority of voters oppose ditching the euro, which is at the heart of the FN's economic program. While Le Pen in the last days of the campaign appeared to soften her position on its timetable, Marechal-Le Pen said that came too late.

Last Wednesday's televised candidates' debate, in which Le Pen constantly attacked Macron and seemed at times uneasy on economic issues, was also cited by analysts and supporters alike as a reason for the defeat.

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