French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen has been suspended from the National Front party he built into a political force after a series of controversial remarks about Jewish people.
The party’s executive bureau met today and decided to suspend Mr Le Pen’s membership in the party he co-founded, pending a party-wide vote on abolishing the position of honorary president he has held for five years.
In a statement, the party said a majority of its leadership supports doing away with the honorary presidency, held by 86-year-old Mr Le Pen since 2011.
The move will be put to a vote of all party members within three months, the statement said.
Mr Le Pen has been a thorn in the side of National Front leaders since he turned over the presidency to his ambitious daughter, Marine Le Pen, in 2011.
She has campaigned to transform the anti-immigration party from political pariah to a voter-friendly alternative with her eye on 2017 presidential elections – while keeping a steady focus on traditional party themes such as immigration and security, and railing at what she claims is the “Islamisation” of France.
Before the suspension decision, the party’s broader political bureau said it “disapproves the comments made and reiterated by Jean-Marie Le Pen,” and affirmed its confidence in his daughter to ensure that “nothing can divert (the party) from its goal of gaining power in the service of France and the French”.
Mr Le Pen said he had been “repudiated” and would not attend the later meeting of the executive bureau on which he sits.
“The founding president of the National Front considers it undignified to appear,” he told iTele TV.
Mr Le Pen insisted he has not spoken on behalf of the National Front since handing over the party reins to his daughter in 2011 and said disagreements within any party’s ranks is normal.
“We’re not a Soviet party. We are not required to have the same ideas on all subjects,” he said.
The sanction comes as the elder Le Pen faces criticism for recent remarks minimising the Holocaust and for praising French wartime leader Philippe Petain, who collaborated with the Nazis.
Polls have shown rising support for the anti-immigration party, which has made gains in recent French elections.
“I think he should no longer speak in the name of the National Front,” Marine Le Pen said Sunday on iTele.
Mr Le Pen has been forced to abandon his plans to run in regional elections in southern France in December despite his popularity there and his seat on the regional council.
The decision to haul him before a disciplinary committee marks the low point in the deteriorating relations between Le Pen and his daughter.
It also reflects the turmoil within the National Front, co-founded by Le Pen in 1972, held hostage by a family feud whose political stakes are considerable.
That turmoil veered into near chaos at the party’s traditional May Day march to honour its patron saint Joan of Arc.
The father-daughter team, usually side-by-side, did not cross paths – until the elder Le Pen made an unscripted appearance on stage, raised fists clenched in apparent defiance, before Marine Le Pen’s speech.
When he laid a wreath at the foot of the gilded Joan of Arc statue, he loudly implored “Help, Joan of Arc!”