Le Pen's father criticizes her presidential campaign as she steps back from party

PARIS (Reuters) - French far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen said on Tuesday his daughter Marine, who faces centrist Emmanuel Macron in a May 7 presidential runoff, should have campaigned more aggressively for Sunday’s first round, following the example of Donald Trump.

With 7.5 million votes, Marine Le Pen beat the National Front party’s previous election record on Sunday but failed to pip pro-EU Macron to the first place.

The intervention by her father follows her announcement on Monday that she plans to step back from day-to-day management of the far-right party he founded ahead of the runoff and marks the latest tussle between the two of them over its future direction.

“I think her campaign was too laid-back. If I’d been in her place I would have had a Trump-like campaign, a more open one, very aggressive against those responsible for the decadence of our country, whether left or right,” 88-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen told RTL radio.

The two have been at odds since Marine Le Pen launched moves to clean the National Front’s image of xenophobic associations in the run-up to the campaign for the 2017 presidency.

Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked the world in 2002 by qualifying for the second round of the presidential election and then went on to lose in a landslide to conservative Jacques Chirac.

He was frequently accused of making xenophobic and anti-Semitic statements and Le Pen expelled him from the party in 2015, though as the party’s founder he remains a well-known figure and represents a body of opinion in the party.

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In another sign of his influence, the National Front has borrowed about 6 million euros from a political fundraising association he heads.

Marine Le Pen’s decision to take a leave of absence from the day-to-day management of the party appeared to be an attempt to portray herself as being above the narrow world of National Front politics and broaden her appeal to the wider electorate ahead of the crucial runoff vote.

Her program calls for sharp curbs on immigration and on the rights of immigrants living in France, as well as the expulsion of foreigners under suspicion of having militant Islamist links.

But she is seeking all the same to distance herself from the toxic legacy of her father and the xenophobic and anti-semitic undertones of his previous campaigns.

Under France’s Fifth Republic, the president is the head of state, very much like a monarch in other countries, a role described by founder Charles De Gaulle as being above party politics - something Le Pen may have had in mind in her Monday night statement.

She may also be seeking to play Macron at his own game, as the 39-year old centrist has refused to join mainstream parties, and consistently described his “En Marche!” (Onwards!) party structure as a “movement” transcending the left-right divide.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Philippa Fletcher