Far-right votes become decisive in French polls

Far-right votes become decisive in French polls

Far-right votes become decisive in French polls

Socialist candidate Hollande waves to his supporters following the announcement of the estimated results of the presidential election. Far-right candidate Le Pen takes 18 percent while the incumbent Sarkozy grabs 28 percent of the votes. AFP photo

Dueling rivals François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy launched the race for the French presidential run-off yesterday after the formbook was upset by the far-right’s record first-round score.

The Socialist Hollande and the right-wing Sarkozy will face off in a second round May 6, but the big surprise of April 22’s first round was the record score for the anti-immigrant, anti-EU flag-bearer Marine Le Pen. Hollande won 28.63 percent of the vote, beating Sarkozy’s 27.18, while Le Pen won a best-ever 17.90 percent, setting up her voters as potential kingmaker. The turnout was a high 80.2 percent.

“Nicolas Sarkozy is to blame for the far-right’s high level,” Hollande told reporters yesterday. “There are voters who may have been been led to this through anger. That is what I want to hear.”

Sarkozy adresses far-right votes
Hollande told a victory rally in his rural political stronghold of Tulle late April 22 that he was the now the obvious frontrunner for the post. “The choice is simple, either continue policies that have failed with a divisive incumbent candidate or raise France up again with a new, unifying president,” Hollande said.

Sarkozy yesterday reached out to the 18 percent of voters who backed Le Pen, saying an “answer must be given” to their concerns. “We must respect the voters’ will, it is our duty to listen,” Sarkozy told journalists. He had sought to put a positive spin on the result despite being the first incumbent to lose a first round vote in modern French history.

Sarkozy also challenged Hollande to three live television debates over the next two weeks instead of the customary one. But Socialist aides said Hollande had made it clear he will accept only one prime-time debate, on May 2. A jubilant Le Pen addressed her supporters after her National Front party’s best-ever showing, saying, “The battle of France has just begun ... we have exploded the monopoly of the two parties,” referring to the Socialists and Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). “Nothing will be as it was before ... the people of France have invited themselves to the table of the elite,” Le Pen, 43, daughter of former paratrooper and National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, said.

Merkel: Surge is alarming

“I will give my opinion on May 1,” Le Pen said when asked how her supporters should vote in the second round. Her father stunned France in 2002 by winning 16.8 percent of the first-round vote, beating Socialist Lionel Jospin to face conservative Jacques Chirac in a runoff. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the strong showing of the far right in the French election “alarming.” Merkel continued to support incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, her deputy spokesman, Georg Streiter, said. “This high score is alarming but I expect it will be ironed out in the second round,” he said on Le Pen’s party. “The chancellor continues to support President Sarkozy,” he told reporters, adding the deep Franco-German friendship was independent of the people in office. Communist-backed leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon finished fourth at 11.1 percent, ahead of centrist François Bayrou with 9.1 percent. Mélenchon urged his followers to turn out massively on May 6 to defeat Sarkozy, but he could not bring himself to mention Hollande by name.