PARIS (AP) — Jean-Marie Le Pen, a founder and the decades-long leader of France's far-right National Front, declared Sunday that his daughter, the party president who has expelled him, will lose next year's presidential race if she fails to unify the party.
The bitter division between the 87-year-old and his daughter Marine Le Pen, 47, played out Sunday with the anti-immigration party's traditional May Day parade canceled and separate wreaths laid at two different statues of Joan of Arc — the party's patron saint.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, who instituted the tradition, spoke at the gilded statue where a year ago he implored Joan of Arc for help. This year, he predicted that without unity his daughter, who has worked to clean up the party's image and broaden its base by reaching across the political spectrum, will lose France's 2017 presidential race.
"Since no signal of reconciliation has been put out, I say today with gravity and sadness that the National Front president will be defeated in the second round, perhaps even the first," the elder Le Pen told several hundred followers.
Le Pen shocked the world in 2002 presidential voting, reaching a runoff with then-incumbent Jacques Chirac, who won. Most polls show Marine Le Pen also reaching the final round.
Meanwhile, the bare-breasted militant Femen group, which crashed Marine's Le Pen's speech last year, showed up Sunday outside a banquet lunch she held in eastern Paris. The half-dozen Femen were removed by police.
In her speech, Marine Le Pen vowed, if elected president, to "recover the abandoned instruments of sovereignty" by, firstly, removing France from the eurozone currency — via a national referendum if need be. In line with her father, she railed against the number of foreigners in France.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, speaking to The Associated Press, denied that there were now two National Fronts.
"It's the famous French diversity," he laughed.
"It's an episode. A detail if you will," he added, alluding to his remark, first made in 1987, that the Nazi gas chambers were a "detail" in World War II history. It was the reiteration of this remark that proved the final straw for Marine Le Pen, who began the process of expelling him from the party.
Jean-Marie Le Pen was convicted again last month for denying crimes against humanity, the latest of numerous convictions for racism and anti-Semitism.
The party could soon see moves against two longstanding members of the political bureau who attended Le Pen's speech — Bruno Gollnisch and party vice president Marie-Christine Arnautu.
Gollnisch told the AP they had been disinvited to the banquet after advising Marine Le Pen they would attend her father's speech.