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The beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning - What's next for Marine Le Pen?

Down but not out, Le Pen is hoping to use this election as a building block for the National Front party.

French presidential elections Macron supporters celebrating last night Source: Michael Kappeler DPA/PA Images

LAST NIGHT, MARINE Le Pen suffered a crushing defeat in the French Presidential election.

The far-right leader of the National Front (FN) party won 34.83% of the vote while her rival, centrist Emmanuel Macron, won 65.17% of the vote and will be inaugurated on Sunday as the youngest ever president of France.

The veteran politician Le Pen had attempted to tap into voter fury with the mainstream parties for their failure to address France’s social and economic issues, promising to eject the country from the EU and introduce sweeping immigration reforms.

She has spent the last six years rebuilding the National Front party, kicking out her own father for his anti-semitic pronouncements, and while this defeat could be interpreted as a sign of rejection for her and her policies from the French electorate, the 48-year-old has already said she is far from finished.

So, what’s next for Marine le Pen?

French presidential elections Source: Marechal Aurore/ABACA/PA Images

Last night, Le Pen took her defeat in her usual combative manner.

She said that her “historic” share of the vote confirmed the National Front’s status as France’s “biggest opposition force”.

Le Pen said the contest against the pro-EU Macron had confirmed a new faultline “between patriots and globalists”.

An unbowed Le Pen immediately announced plans to undertake “a profound transformation” of the FN and to continue the fight between “patriots and globalists” in June’s general election.

A major improvement will be required, however, with the FN only holding two out of the 577 seats in the French National Assembly. Going forward, expanding the party’s appeal will be crucial.

In the first round of the presidential election, Le Pen received 7.6 million votes. In this final round, she got 10 million.

Clearly, those who voted for other candidates in the first round switched to Macron in their droves, with Le Pen failing to win over this portion of voters.

Getting beyond the first round at all, however, was an achievement in itself.

This election was the first since World War II that neither the socialists or the republicans made it to the second round.

Le Pen’s FN has certainly been a disruptive force, but she was unable to win over voters this time when it was a stark choice between her and a more moderate opponent.

Name changer

Le Pen will be hoping her vote share is a platform from which to build future success for her party.

In a bid to broaden its appeal among voters, away from long-held associations with xenophobic and anti-semitic views dating back to her father Jean Marie’s reign as leader, the National Front will soon change its name.

The FN would have to “profoundly renew itself to be equal to this historic opportunity and the expectations expressed by the French in this second round,” she warned.

“I suggest we begin a profound transformation of our movement to create a new political force,” she said, adding: “I call on all patriots to join us.”

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FN’s deputy leader, Florian Philippot, separately said the party would alter its name as it sought to transform itself into a “new political force”.

Attempts to shift the party from its traditional base may not be so easy, however.

Rumoured to be the eventual successor to Le Pen, her 27-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen takes more of a hardline approach to her aunt and her popularity among the party’s grassroots has been growing.

Marine Le Pen And Nicolas Dupont-Aignan Press Conference - Paris The popularity of Marion Marechal-Le Pen has grown among party ranks. Source: Pauletto Francois/ABACA/PA Images

Last night, she admitted that the result was “disappointing” and that “reflection” was needed.

And Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, was sceptical of any attempt to change the direction of the party.

Speaking following the election result, the 88-year-old told RTL Radio the party had to “remain true… to the basics of the national Front”.

These are the basics of the National Front, which enabled this movement to be the only one which was set up in the 20th century and which has endured.

Seeking to ride a similar wave of populism that propelled Donald Trump to the presidency, Marine Le Pen has come up short by some distance on this occasion.

If her party is to build on her performance though, next month’s general election will be a good acid test.

While the French people chose to reject her for president this time, the FN will hope to increase its representation in the assembly with a view to another run at the presidency in the future.

Marine Le Pen may be down, but not out. Yet.

Read: From Donald Trump to Michael D Higgins, there are lots of congrats for Emmanuel Macron today

Read: ‘Tonight, France won’: Macron defeats Le Pen to become the new French president

About the author:

Sean Murray

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