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French far-right party elects new president to replace Le Pen

French far right leader Marine Le Pen celebrates with newly elected leader of the National Rally president Jordan Bardella during the party congress in Paris (Lewis Joly/AP/PA)
French far right leader Marine Le Pen celebrates with newly elected leader of the National Rally president Jordan Bardella during the party congress in Paris (Lewis Joly/AP/PA)

Jordan Bardella has been elected to replace Marine Le Pen as president of France’s leading far-right party, a symbolic changing of the guard that comes at a crucial time for the resurgent National Rally.

Mr Bardella, a 27-year-old member of the European Parliament, won an internal party vote with 85% support, according to results announced at a party congress in Paris. He becomes the first person to lead the anti-immigration party who doesn’t have the Le Pen name since it was founded 50 years ago.

The National Rally is seeking to capitalise on a breakthrough showing in legislative elections this year and growing support for far-right parties elsewhere in Europe, notably in neighbouring Italy.

France Far Right
Newly elected chief of the National Rally Jordan Bardella addresses the audience during the party congress in Paris (Lewis Joly/AP/PA)

It is also facing broad public anger over a racist comment this week by a National Rally member in parliament that cast doubt on years of efforts to soften the party’s image.

Marine Le Pen has said she wants to focus on leading the party’s 89 politicians in the National Assembly. She is still expected to wield significant power in party leadership, and run again for the presidency in 2027.

Mr Bardella had been the interim president of the National Rally since Ms Le Pen entered the presidential race last year.

He beat rival Louis Aliot, 53, the mayor of Perpignan and a senior official of the National Rally for two decades. Mr Aliot, who is a fervent supporter of Ms Le Pen’s rise and a former romantic partner of hers, won 15% of the party vote.

Ms Le Pen lost to Emmanuel Macron on her third bid for the presidency this year, but won 44% of the national vote, her highest score yet. Two months later, her party won its most seats to date in the lower house of parliament.

Ms Le Pen has gone to great lengths to remove the stigma of racism and antisemitism that clung to the far-right party, to soften its image and to broaden her audience. She has notably distanced herself from her now ostracised father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who co-founded the party then called the National Front.

France Far Right
Marine Le Pen celebrates with newly elected chief of the National Rally Jordan Bardella (Lewis Joly/AP/PA)

“Bardella is part of a generation of young, very young, people who engaged themselves behind Marine Le Pen in the 2010s and who probably wouldn’t have joined the National Rally during Jean-Marie Le Pen’s era,” political scientist Jean-Yves Camus said.

Mr Bardella supports the anti-immigration and protectionist line of the party.

“Progress today is called localism. It’s called defending borders. It’s called protectionism,” he said in 2019, ahead of European elections, rejecting what he called “massive immigration”.

However, Mr Aliot, vice president of the party, argued that the National Rally needs to reshape itself to make it more palatable to the mainstream right.

According to Mr Camus, the party vote will not question Le Pen’s leadership.

“The first impact of this election is that Le Pen won’t have to deal with the party and can focus on the most important thing, leading the party’s lawmakers in the National Assembly,” he explained.

For the past few months, 40,000 members of the party voted online to elect the new head of the party.