France's far right National Front party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen delivers a speech during the traditional May Day tribute to Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) in front of her statue in Paris, France, May 1, 2016. REUTERES/Philippe Wojazer(reuters_tickers)
By Ingrid Melander and Gerard Bon
PARIS (Reuters) - French far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen on Sunday said his daughter Marine was doomed to lose in presidential elections next year, throwing the spotlight on their family feud at the National Front's May 1st celebrations.
Marine Le Pen forced her father, the FN's founder, out of the party last year over comments playing down the Nazi Holocaust. The feud burst into the open after she had sought to soften the anti-immigration party's image to help her quest for power.
"I say it with gravity and sadness but since there have been no efforts (on her part) for reconciliation, the FN president will lose in the second round and maybe even in the first," Jean-Marie Le Pen told reporters at a Paris ceremony before a statue of Joan of Arc.
For the first time, Le Pen father and daughter paid homage separately to the 15th century martyr, who is regularly invoked by the FN as a nationalist symbol, after the 87-year-old gate-crashed a May Day event last year for his daughter, making an unscripted and unwelcome appearance on stage.
Jean-Marie Le Pen was party chief until he passed the helm to his daughter in 2011 but they later fell out over political strategy.
Unlike her maverick father, Marine is not content with attracting protest votes and targets power. Following a strategy of "de-demonisation", she has sought to make the FN a mainstream party and more politically respectable - something her father regards as a mistake.
Marine's growing popularity has not suffered from her father's expulsion. But while polls see her topping the first round of the presidential elections in April next year, she is seen losing the run-off to former prime minister Alain Juppe from the centre-right Les Republicains party.
Socialist President Francois Hollande would not qualify for the run-off, polls show.
Though it is improving its scores election after election, the FN is struggling to transform this into victories. The latest upset came in regional elections in December where it won no constituency despite leading in the first round.
After being uncharacteristically quiet since the December upset, Marine told a crowd of 2,000 at an indoors rally on Sunday that she wanted to do politics differently.
"I want to be away from the Paris political swamp as much as possible," she said, adding that she would focus on debating with voters and using social media.
"With you, with your strength, your energy, we will make the impossible possible", she told voters, who applauded cheering "Marine, President".
(Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Richard Balmforth)