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Marine Le Pen reelected FN leader but Bannon prefers her niece
Marine Le Pen was reelected unopposed as leader of France's National Front (FN) on Sunday. The previous day US far-right ideologue Steve Bannon praised Le Pen's potential rival, Marion Maréchal Le Pen, at a press conference after telling the far-right party's conference they have history on their side.
Le Pen's reelection as FN president in a postal ballot was no surprise, given that there were on other candidates for the post.
But there was a surprise on Saturday when she met the press alongside Bannon, a guest speaker at the party's annual conference whose presence grabbed headlines worldwide after being announced at the last minute.
Bannon had little to say about the party leader but lavished praise on her niece, Marion Maréchal Le Pen, who is seen as a potential rival to her aunt.
“She is not simply a rising star on the right in France. She’s one of the most impressive people in the entire world,” he told reporters.
Maréchal Le Pen was “absolutely electrifying" at the Cpac conference of American right-wingers last month, Bannon, a Catholic like Maréchal Le Pen, commented.
Asked how she felt about the panegyric, Marine Le Pen told Bannon that journalists were trying to stir up division between her and her niece.
“They don’t understand that we defend the same ideas, in the education field for her and in politics for me,” she said.
Maréchal Le Pen, who was France's youngest MP in the last parliament, announced she was retiring from politics after the last election but remains popular with traditionalist Catholics in the FN's ranks.
Bannon did praise Marine Le Pen's claim to be above the traditional left-right divide during his conference speech, during which a US flag was unfurled on the stage.
"It is not about left versus right," he said. "That's too simplistic and it's the way the opposition party, media, has always kept us out of power. She described it perfectly: it's do you consider the nation state an obstacle to be overcome or a jewel to be polished, loved and nurtured?"
The former Breitbart News boss is visiting Europe to try to pass on the lessons learnt in running the hard-right website and the last leg of Donald Trump's presidential election campaign to cothinkers such as the FN.
"The tide of history is with us and it will compel us to victory after victory, after victory," he told the 1,500 assembled activists.
And he urged them to stand strong against their critics.
“You fight for your country and they call you racist," he declared. "But the days when those kind of insults work is over. The establishment media are the dogs of the system. Every day, we become stronger and they become weaker. Let them call you racists, xenophobes or whatever else, wear these like a medal.”
Changes to constitution
On Sunday the congress voted to change the party's constitution, which was drawn up in 1972 and largely based on the rules of the then-powerful Communist Party.
The changes involved de-Stalinising committee names - the political bureau has become the national bureau, the central committee the national committee - and creating a national committee of local government office-holders.
But the vote - by 79.7 percent to 20.2 percent - also meant abolishing the post of honorary president, a post recently created for former leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has since been expelled for disrupting his daughter's efforts to clean up the party's image but won a court battle to hold on to his newly created position.
Le Pen was to announce a proposal for a new name for the party on Sunday afternoon.
The principle of a rebrand won a narrow majority of 52 percent in a poll of members, according to party officials, although Jean-Marie Le Pen claims that it was actually rejected.
The new name will be put to a postal ballot and the count will take place before independent observers.