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Change of President in Sight at the Rassemblement National by Hélène de Lauzun

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Change of President in Sight at the Rassemblement National

The Rassemblement National, the party of the French national Right, on the strength of its success in the legislative elections of June 2022 and its 89 deputies, is preparing for a major event in the life of this movement: the election of its president, which is due to take place on November, 5th.

For the moment, it is the time for candidates to be nominated.

The favourite is the one who currently holds the position of interim president, Jordan Bardella, appointed by Marine Le Pen in person in September 2021 to take the reins of the party during the presidential campaign. Formally, Marine Le Pen still holds the title of “president of the party,” but since that date she has not exercised her authority in that regard. 

In June, Jordan Bardella announced his intention to continue on this path and formally become the president of the party founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972. This would be the first time that the former Front National, now Rassemblement National, would be headed by a person not bearing the Le Pen name. Jordan Bardella is very young—26 years old—but has had years of political experience and can boast of being an early activist in the Front National. A native of Seine-Saint-Denis—the French department with the highest rate of immigrant population—he joined the FN when he was just 16, before gradually working his way up the party ranks. In 2015, he worked as a parliamentary assistant before being elected, also in 2015, as regional councillor and head of the list for Seine-Saint-Denis. In 2017, he joined the campaign team of Marine Le Pen for the presidential election. In 2018, he was elected MEP, and then chosen as first vice-president of the party in July 2021: a faultless course among the faithful in the eyes of the party’s members. An article published in Valeurs actuelles on July 25th and signed by the Var deputy Laure Lavalette summarises the enthusiasm that the young man arouses in the ranks of the RN. Bardella is portrayed as a rising and irresistible force, who distinguished himself during the presidential campaign, particularly in high-profile debates on television, and has largely contributed to the success of Marine Le Pen’s party in the legislative elections. 

But Jordan Bardella has just found a challenger in the person of Louis Aliot, who has made known his desire to run as a presidential candidate in an article published in L’Opinion on Thursday, July 28th. In addition to having been the former companion of Marine Le Pen, Louis Aliot is above all mayor of Perpignan, the prefecture of Eastern Pyrenees. He is 53 years old and, like Jordan Bardella, he is a lifelong activist: he joined the Front National in 1988 and has spent his entire political career there. Faced with the enthusiasm and youth of the interim president, Aliot plays the card of wisdom, maturity, and local roots. For the regional councillor of Occitania Frédéric Bort, Aliot’s candidacy is an obvious choice: “He is mature, he has a remarkable career within the FN, he went from being Jean-Marie Le Pen’s cabinet director to a major actor of the de-demonisation process, he conquered different elective positions. He is one of those experienced people that we need.”

Two profiles, two opportunities. For all that, it is difficult to talk about the candidates as two competitors; their race will be quite different from that of Florian Philippot and Marion Maréchal, wherein the strong opposition between the populist and the conservative caused great damage to the party a few years ago. Nothing of the kind is to be feared this time. The two men, Bardella and Aliot, make their political loyalty to Marine the pillar of their candidacy. Indeed, Bardella’s supporters refuse to be offended by this competition. “It’s one rather than the other, not one against the other,” says Laure Lavalette, contacted by Boulevard Voltaire. Jordan Bardella also speaks graciously of his opponent, highlighting the “maturity” of the Rassemblement National, now capable of offering its members and the French a quality debate between two responsible personalities:

Louis Aliot, for his part, also responds affably to his competitor:

But this exchange of politeness is not without tensions in the background. If the political lines of Bardella and Aliot agree globally, there are nevertheless neighbourhood tensions. Behind Aliot follow the faithful of his Pyrenean fiefdom, sometimes called “the RN of the North,” or, more negatively, “the clique of Hénin-Beaumont,”—the constituency of Marine Le Pen. The mayor of Hénin-Beaumont, Steeve Briois, is known to cordially dislike Bardella and wishes to block his way. This “RN du Nord” is also known to be more focused on the popular electorate, and less identity-based. It is a region that holds a vision of the Right that differs slightly from that of Jordan Bardella, more open, for example, on the issue of collaboration with the Zemmourists.

The potential candidates have until September 9th to make themselves known and to collect the necessary number of sponsorships, i.e., 20% of the national council, or 76 signatures. Members will then have to vote online between September 30th and November 3rd.

The debate between the two men over the coming weeks promises to be stimulating. In any case, whatever the result, a major page will be turned: the name of Le Pen will no longer be present at the top of the organisation chart.

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).