PARIS (Reuters) -European Parliament member Gilbert Collard said on Saturday he is leaving Marine Le Pen’s National Rally to join rival far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, becoming the third Le Pen ally in a week to link up with Zemmour.
Last week, Jerome Riviere, head of Le Pen’s National Rally group in the European Parliament, and Damien Rieu, parliamentary assistant to another National Rally EU lawmaker, also quit to join Zemmour’s ranks.
“I have nothing against Marine Le Pen … I join Eric Zemmour because of his ideas,” Collard said in an interview with France Bleu Gard Lozere.
Former TV talk show host Zemmour and Le Pen are vying for the far-right vote, hoping to beat President Emmanuel Macron in the April election.
For several weeks last year, opinion polls indicated that Zemmour – who has been convicted several times for inciting racial hatred – had a chance of placing second in the presidential poll and facing Macron in a run-off. His campaign has since lost some steam and he now polls fourth.
National Rally (RN) officials played down Collard’s departure, saying it would not affect Le Pen’s presidential bid.
“We did not see much support from Collard to Marine’s campaign and at any rate, the polls show that she is the one who can beat Macron,” RN spokesman Philippe Ballard said on BFM television.
Opinion polls put Macron in the lead, followed by Le Pen or conservative challenger Valerie Pecresse.
“The arrival of Gilbert Collard is a friend joining us,” Zemmour said at a campaign rally in Cannes.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq and Claude Chendjou;Editing by Frances Kerry and Louise Heavens)