“More people worship the rising sun than the setting sun,” a young and ambitious Roman general is said to have quipped to the ageing dictator Sulla. For many in France’s Front National, the twenty-seven year old Marion Maréchal-Le Pen was the rising sun they saw as the future of their movement. But two days ago she announced her withdrawal from political life. At least for now.
On Wednesday Marion Maréchal-Le Pen confirmed that she would not be seeking re-election to the National Assembly seat she has represented since 2012 (when she became the youngest French MP since Robespierre’s acolyte Louis Antoine de Saint-Just in 1791). Instead, she would be stepping back from frontline politics in order to concentrate on being a mother to her two-year old daughter and gain some life experience outside the political arena. But the wording of her statement makes clear that, far from ending her political career, her departure is intended to enhance a future return.
“My idea of a good political leader dictates that I benefit from experiences other than electoral or political success. Having acquired that experience and that legitimacy, I hope to one day again put them at your service.”
Marine Le Pen’s attempts at broadening the FN’s appeal have moved her further and further away from the party’s traditional base in the ultraconservative Catholic right, with whom Maréchal-Le Pen has become increasingly closely associated. Defeat in Sunday’s presidential election has prompted much debate within the FN, with many using it as evidence that Marine has got it wrong. A poor-showing in next month’s legislative elections would provide even more ammunition for the Marine critics and circumstances might soon be ripe for the FN membership to be tempted to turn to what fresher blood the Le Pen dynasty has to offer. Although the party has consistently downplayed all reports of conflict between aunt and niece, the reports have yet persisted and, if Marion does wish to put herself at the head of the anti-Marine faction, it is from outside the Assembly, not owing anything to the current leadership, that she would be freest to do so.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the FN’s founder, denounced his granddaughter’s decision yesterday not to seek re-election in Vaucluse as a ‘desertion,’ saying that she was the embodiment of its future. It seems likely that she still is. Many have seen her decision not as a desertion, but a tactical retreat to better ground. From every indication she herself has given, the political comeback of Marion Maréchal-Le Pen is guaranteed. She is still the FN’s rising sun.