Sarkozy fate in hands of far right
PARIS: The surprising strong showing of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the first round of the French presidential elections presents problems for the two main candidates and is expected to force the rhetoric of the President, Nicolas Sarkozy, even further to the right.
Ms Le Pen won 18 per cent of the vote, the National Front's best result. It tops the historic 17 per cent that catapulted her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, into the second round of voting in 2002, and confirms her as a major influence in French politics.
''The battle for France has only just begun … nothing will be as before,'' she told cheering supporters on election night. ''We have exploded the monopoly of the [main] parties, of banks, finance, of multinationals, of resignation and abandonment, and carried higher than ever before the hopes of national ideas.
Leaning right ... Front National candidate Marine Le Pen celebrates a strong showing in the first round of the French presidential election. Photo: AFP
''Faced with an incumbent President at the head of a considerably weakened party, we are the only opposition to the ultra-liberal, lax and libertarian left.''
More than half of National Front voters must vote for Mr Sarkozy in the second round if he is to stand a chance of beating the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande, whom polls indicate is at least 10 points ahead.
This suggests Mr Sarkozy is gone, said political analyst Gerard Grunberg: ''His fate is in the hands of Marine Le Pen and she will do nothing to help him - on the contrary.''
Ms Le Pen has said she will make an announcement on May 1 about the second-round vote, due on May 6.
While Mr Sarkozy's rhetoric is closer to Ms Le Pen's than that of Mr Hollande, her long-term strategy depends on the demise of his party. She hopes to form a broader right-wing coalition following the erosion of Mr Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement.
The second surprise at the weekend was an Ipsos poll indicating her party's support base this time round was much younger than in previous elections. Forty-eight per cent of those who voted for her were between 25 and 44, a change that might be linked to her style of leadership. She has worked hard to detoxify the party's racist image following the convictions of her father over his comments that the Holocaust was ''a detail of history''.
Mr Sarkozy, beaten in the first round by Mr Hollande's 28.6 per cent to his 27.1 per cent, immediately addressed such concerns following the result: ''This anxiety, this suffering, I know them … I know that in this fast-moving world, the concern of our patriots to preserve their way of life is the key issue in this election.''