FAR-RIGHT French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen last night announced that she is temporarily stepping down as head of her Front National party.

The move appears to be an attempt to appeal to a wider range of potential voters ahead of the May 7 run-off between herself and Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist who came in first in Sunday’s first round.

“Tonight, I am no longer the president of the National Front. I am the presidential candidate,” Le Pen said.

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She has said in the past that she is not a candidate of her party, and made that point when she rolled out her platform in February, saying the measures she was espousing were not her party’s, but her own. She has worked to bring in voters from the left and right for several years, attempting to clean up her party’s racist, anti-Semitic image to do so.

Earlier, President Francois Hollande urged the people of France to back centrist candidate Macron when electing his successor, to ensure the role does not go to Le Pen.

The Republicans’ Francois Fillon and Socialist Benoit Hamon, who are now out of the race, also urged their supporters to vote for Macron. The defeated far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon, pointedly refused to back him.

Speaking the day after Le Pen polled the second-highest number of first-round votes, Hollande said her platform of pulling out of the euro would devastate the country’s economy and threaten French liberty.

He said the far-right would “deeply divide France” at a time when the terror threat requires solidarity and cohesion.

Le Pen and Macron, a former minister under Hollande, go forward to the second ballot on May 7 after polling 21 per cent and 23.8 per cent of the vote respectively on Sunday.

Macron was Hollande’s top adviser on economic issues from 2012 to 2014, then economy minister in his Socialist government. A year ago, he launched his own political movement, En Marche! (In Motion!) to prepare his presidential bid as an independent centrist candidate. He quit the government a few months later.