Runoff against centrist Emmanuel Macron is scheduled for May 7
Le Pen says final voting round on May 7 could bring a "very big surprise"
French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on Tuesday sought to broaden her appeal outside her party’s traditional base, declaring that she is “not the candidate” of the far-right National Front.
“I am the candidate who has been supported by the National Front,” she said in an interview with the French TF1 network.
Le Pen, 48, fresh off the highest-ever voting tally for the National Front, said she stepped aside from the party leadership this week to run on behalf of all French citizens.
“I am a presidential candidate as of today,” she said.
Observers see the move as a tactical one designed to earn her votes from people who might be disposed to vote for her but who find the fascist reputation of the National Front a step too far.
Le Pen said the final voting round on May 7 could bring a “very big surprise” – the result of “a revolt of the people against the elite,” as seen in Britain’s Brexit vote and in Trump’s election victory.
Le Pen: The people want to take back power
Responding to a question from CNN’s Melissa Bell, Le Pen acknowledged parallels between her nationalist policy stances on immigration and globalization and those that propelled President Donald Trump to the White House.
“The people are saying we want to take back power,” she said. “We want to be sovereign again.”
Like Trump, Le Pen has risen on populist politics rooted in anger over immigration policies, globalization and middle class economic disenfranchisement.
Many view her as a threat to the strength and unity of the political institutions that have underpinned Western countries for the past half century, notably in her opposition to the EU and pledge to leave NATO.
Echoing Trump’s “America first” mantra, Le Pen said Tuesday that she would not be influenced by the policies of other countries.
“The only question I would be worried about is, Is it good for France and the French people?” she said.
Le Pen has vowed to intensify the nationalist, anti-Islamist rhetoric that propelled her into the second round.
Sunday’s first round contest was held under tight security after a terror attack in Paris on Thursday night disrupted the final day of campaigning Friday. The Paris attacks in November 2015, in which 130 people were killed, saw French President François Hollande’s popularity plunge.
Le Pen on Tuesday reiterated her pledge to impose a temporary ban on legal immigration to France – calling the nation’s immigration policies “the best kept secret of our republic.”
She wants to slash legal immigration from 200,000 to 10,000 “entries” per year in France, and wants to see immigrants’ access to public services limited.
“How can we take care of them?” she asked. “How are we going to house them?”
On Sunday, the pro-European centrist Macron took first place with 24.01% of the first-round voting, while Le Pen came second on 21.30%, according to final results.
Opponents have argued that Le Pen’s economic and social programs would bankrupt the country, particularly if France dropped the euro as its currency, as she has threatened.
Le Pen’s advancement to the second round is not without precedent – her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to a runoff against then-incumbent Jacques Chirac in 2002, only to suffer a devastating loss when anti-extremist voters rallied against the National Front leader.
For many voters, the election was about a desire for change and disenchantment with a political class.
The country suffers from high unemployment, a stagnant economy, security concerns and its citizens remain bitterly divided. The government has struggled to cope with immigration and integration.
Macron, 39, a former banker, has never held elected office, though he served as economy minister under Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
He attracted support from left and right with promises to boost the economy and improve security. His party, “En Marche!” which was only created in September, now has more than 200,000 members and his meetings have attracted vast crowds.
CNN’s James Masters contributed to this report.