The big surprise in Sunday’s first-round presidential election came from the far right. Marine Le Pen’s National Front won 17.9% of the vote, a record high for the party. President Sarkozy and his Socialist challenger will battle for her voters from both
PARIS -- "If Le Pen is a jerk, then those who vote for him are jerks…" This memorable line came from Bernard Tapie in 1992 before becoming one of then-President Francois Mitterrand's government ministers. And he was referring to Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the far right National Front party, and perennial presidential candidate.
The National Front is now led by the founder's daughter, Marine Le Pen, who tallied an all-time record in Sunday's first round of voting, just shy of 18%. Many analysts say the winner of the runoff on May 6 between President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist challenger François Hollande will be the candidate best able to woo Le Pen's first-round supporters.
Sarkozy is clearly not taking Tapie's route. "I wouldn't dare lecture them," he said Monday about the 17.9% of French voters who opted for Le Pen. "I saw that some criticized them for voting for the extremes. I don't blame them," Sarkozy added during his first post-election rally near Tour.
The incumbent also fired away at the Socialist camp. "I will not be lectured, especially not by a left that wanted to bring Dominique Strauss-Kahn to the presidency. Just imagine if it had been us," he said. Later that afternoon Sarkozy set off for a campaign tour of rural France, where support for Le Pen was especially high. "Why should there be good and bad votes?" he said.
Sarkozy has decided to hold a major rally on May 1, international Labor Day, a date traditionally marked by rallies from both the National Front on the right and the country's major labor unions. "We will organize a Labor day, but a real labor day, for those who work hard, who are under threat, who are hurting and who don't want people who don't work to get more than those who do work," he said.
Hollande, who finished more than a percentage point ahead of Sarkozy on Sunday, also kicked off his second-round campaign with an overture to disenchanted voters, promising greater government attention for "the workers who wonder what tomorrow will bring, the pensioners who are exhausted, the farmers who fear for the survival of their livelihood, the youth who wonder about their future."
Hollande is heading east to "regions hit hard by unemployment" – and where Le Pen got some of her highest support.
Hollande faces a complicated political equation. On the one hand he must concentrate his fire on Sarkozy, all the while doing his best to shore up votes from the far left and environmental parties. At the same time, he'll try to gain ground in the political center and, hopefully, convince some of Le Pen's voters to get on board as well.
"François thought he would have had a higher tally, with a bigger gap between him and Sarkozy and a much stronger Jean-Luc Mélenchon," says one Socialist party official. "The difficulty is less mathematical than political. We must point to Sarkozy's failings, push him to the right in order to get the center, while at the same time speaking to National Front voters. It's a matter of proportion."
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Photo - RemiJDN
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