Far-Right National Front performs well in French regional elections
France's far-Right National Front (FN) has re-emerged on the French political scene after enjoying a surprisingly strong showing in regional elections on Sunday.
By Henry Samuel in Paris
Published: 12:09PM GMT 15 Mar 2010
France's far-Right National Front (FN) has re-emerged on the French political scene after enjoying a surprisingly strong showing in regional elections on Sunday. Photo: AFP/GETTY
All but crushed after the 2007 presidential elections, the National Front, or FN, confounded polling predictions to reap almost 12 per cent of the national vote.
Mr Sarkozys Right-wing UMP group scored a worse-than-expected 26.18 per cent and is heading for a drubbing in next Sunday's runoff.
The opposition Socialists came in first with 29.48 per cent of the vote and are expected to join forces with the green-minded Europe Ecologie party, which came third with 12.7 per cent.
But the FN result was Sunday nights biggest surprise, coming in the wake of a year-long recession in France and a regional campaign in which Mr Sarkozys camp has repeatedly beaten the drum of national identity and immigration.
Mr Le Pen, 81, who founded the FN in 1972 and is probably fighting his last electoral battle was jubilant after Sundays result.
The National Front was declared beaten, dead, buried by the president, Mr Le Pen said late on Sunday.
This shows that it is still a national force, and probably destined to become greater and greater.
His party, which has rammed home an anti-immigrant message, is in the running in 12 of Frances 22 mainland regions.
The showing is a far cry from the dismal 6.8 per cent the FN mustered in European elections last year and the just 4.3 per cent Le Pen won in the 2007 presidential vote.
Martine Aubry, the Socialist leader, instantly accused Mr Sarkozy of re-opening a door for the FN. The President, she said, led this debate on national identity aimed at opposing French from here with French from elsewhere or foreigners, well (in doing so) he opened a door”.
Mr Sarkozy, via his immigration minister, Eric Besson, launched a national identity debate aimed at getting citizens to define what it means to be French on Internet forums and public meetings.
These often descended into anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rants. France has around six million Muslims, Europes biggest minority.
Critics said the debate was a ploy to woo back the FN electorate, which Mr Sarkozy did successfully during the presidential campaign. His party has also led a campaign to ban the wearing of the full Islamic veil in France.
During its campaign, the FN played on fears by releasing a poster that read No to Islamism, and depicting woman wearing a full Islamic veil and an Algerian flag superimposed on a map of France with minarets portrayed as missiles.
A French court banned the poster in a ruling two days before the first round vote, saying it was offensive to Muslims. Mr Le Pen, however, displayed it during his television appearance.
The strong FN score puts Mr Le Pens daughter, Marine, in a strong position to succeed him as head of the party; the 41-year-old boosted her credentials by winning 18.3 per cent in the poor northern Pas-de-Calais region.
The abstention rate for the ballot was put at 52 per cent – a record low for a French regional election.
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