Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen came top in the first round of the presidential election in the Gard region of France, but will her supporters now back right wing President Nicolas Sarkozy? FRANCE 24 met her local supporters to find out.
The town of Besseges in the Gard region of southern French is a National Front stronghold and a microcosm of France’s political evolution.
The depressed former mining town of 3,000 inhabitants lies in the hilly north of the Gard administrative region, where extreme-right leader Marine Le Pen won 25.5% of the vote in the first round of the French presidential election, sending shockwaves across France.
Nationwide, Le Pen came third in the first round of the presidential election on April 22, with the National Front getting 18% of the vote. It was a record-breaking score for the far right party, beating the 16% that Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, won to get through to the second round of the 2002 presidential election.
In Besseges, the blonde, 43-year-old National Front leader did even better than the Gard average in the April 22 round, winning 26.56% of the vote. Socialist François Hollande won the first round in this town with 29% of the vote while incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy came third with just 19%.
In the run-up to the May 6 final round, all eyes are on whether Le Pen’s supporters will choose Sarkozy, or Hollande.
With Hollande holding an average 10-point lead in the opinion polls, Sarkozy is desperately trying to woo Le Pen’s supporters by focusing on traditionally National Front issues such as immigration, national identity and tightening border controls.
But in Besseges, most far-right activists and ordinary voters expressed disappointment with Sarkozy’s track record and maintained that the French president had failed them and the country. Speaking to FRANCE 24, an overwhelming majority of Besseges residents said they would not support a president “who had broken all his promises”.
Sarkozy will 'not get my vote'
Benjamin Tallon is a young National Front activist and a member of the Besseges town council.
The 26-year-old engineer accused Sarkozy of being a hypocrite by taking up National Front issues in his “desperate bid” to secure the far-right vote.
“Sarkozy has always been after our voters,” he stated. “He promises to reduce immigration in 2007 and he’s doing it all over again. Locally, when there are election battles between the National Front and the Socialists, the UMP always tells people to vote Socialist.
“I am a natural conservative, and I would normally support the conservative candidate in the second round.
“But Sarkozy has shown the country that he is a hypocrite. He will not get my vote.”
The former Socialist
Baptiste Gazancon, 37, turned to the FN after his construction company collapsed last year.
He told FRANCE 24 that he believed the work ethic in France had been undermined by a social benefits culture that allowed people to earn without working while penalising those “that get out of bed every morning and go to work”.
“I’ve voted Socialist in every single election until now,” he said. “I still believe in the social model; that there should be a safety net for people who lose their jobs.
“But it should only be for people who deserve it. You can’t simply move to this country and start claiming benefits at the expense of people who work hard.
“Marine Le Pen has promised to put a stop to this and that’s why I am voting for her. Francois Hollande has not addressed this issue. In fact he has avoided it and even said that benefits should be extended. It breaks my heart.”
The father of two said that some of his co-workers of North African descent also voted National Front and claimed this was proof that the party had shaken off its racist stigma.
“I recognise the value of immigration,” he argued. “But we should only allow people in who are prepared to work.
“As for the second round, it is my civic duty to vote. So I will go to the polling station, but I will put a blank card in the envelope. I can’t support either Sarkozy or Hollande.”
Jean-Francois Grillo, 61, is a radiologist who has supported the National Front all his adult life.
Like many other far-right party supporters, he sees Sarkozy’s UMP and Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS) as two sides of the same coin, and refers to both parties as the “UMPS”.
“Sarkozy’s attempts to get the National Front vote are so obvious and so shallow they are pitiful,” he declared. “I will cast a blank ballot in the second round of the election because both the Socialists and France’s mainstream conservatives have progressively destroyed this country over the last 30 years.
“But I predict a victory for Francois Hollande. What this means is that France will edge closer to the economic situation we see in Greece and in Spain.
“This will be devastating for our country, but it will mean that the National Front will become the only sensible voice of conservative opposition in France.”
The former Legionnaire
Sebastien Bosquet is a tough-looking and gruff-talking former French Foreign Legionnaire, the unit that was the alma mater of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.
His opinions are direct: “We love our country the way the English love their queen, and Marine Le Pen is the one person that unites people who genuinely love France and want it to succeed.”
A public transport worker from Montpellier, Bosquet was in Besseges to visit friends, who are also National Front supporters.
Bosquet said he would not vote in the May 6 second round.
“I refuse to lend my support to candidates who insult us, and especially not Sarkozy,” he stated. “They want our votes but as citizens, as people with opinions, they couldn’t care less about us.
“Both candidates and both parties are the same and whatever the outcome of the election, nothing will change. France will continue on its downward spiral.”
The old campaigner
Yves Gailhac, 62, has been an ardent supporter of the FN all his life.
Of all the voters FRANCE 24 met in Besseges, Gailhac was the most blunt.
“I’ve never been a racist and I have never been a fascist,” he argued. “That is not what the National Front is about and it never has been.
“Some National Front people are going to vote for Sarkozy because he is the conservative candidate and because he has been talking up issues like immigration.
“They’ve got it all wrong. He’s a hypocrite. Five years of Sarkozy have been terrible for France.
“I predict Hollande will win, and things will continue to be just as terrible.
“France will end up like Greece and within two years there will be a revolution. The National Front will come through as the only party with the real answers.”
Date created : 2012-04-29