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Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-06-14

Marine Le Pen’s National Front took 13.6% of votes in the first round of France’s parliamentary elections and hopes to gain seats in the National Assembly. The mainstream parties are divided on how to deal with the FN threat.

France’s far-right National Front (FN) hopes to gain up to seven parliamentary seats on Sunday’s second round of the country’s legislative elections with targeted campaigns in a handful of constituencies against rival candidates from the mainstream parties.

Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration and anti-Europe FN scored 13.6% of the overall vote in the first round, a huge leap forward from the 5% in the 2007 elections.

But with no proportional representation system in France – something the FN desperately wants – this does not translate into 13.6% of parliamentary seats, and the FN can only hope for a half dozen places of a total 577 in the National Assembly.

While this is a small number, it would still be a significant advance for a party that has not had a member of parliament since 1998, when its last representative was forced to resign amid a campaign funding scandal.

At its height in 1986, the FN fielded 35 members of parliament, largely thanks to a short-lived share of proportional representation introduced by then-President François Mitterrand.

Across France, the vast majority of constituencies failed to produce a candidate in the first round, with a second ballot taking place in 541. The FN is contesting 61 of these, and in five the party came first.

Socialists take a stand

Party boss Marine Le Pen herself stands the biggest chance of getting a seat for her party at the Hénin-Beaumon constituency in the Pas-de-Calais administrative region in the north of France, where she took 43% of votes in the first round.

She came well ahead of her Socialist Party (PS) rival who got 24% and soundly beat far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon who took 21%, just short of the benchmark to take him through to the second round.

In a neighbouring Pas-de-Calais constituency, the FN’s Charlotte Soula came first with 26% against PS candidate Nicolas Bays’ 25%, eliminating the incumbent, former PS Assembly member Jean-Pierre Kucheida, who had been in place since 1981.

In the southern Vaucluse administrative region, another FN heartland, Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen scored 35% in her rural constituency, beating the incumbent Jean-Michel Ferrand, himself a firebrand right-winger of former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party who got 30%.

Socialist leader Martine Aubry had urged her party’s candidate Catherine Arkilovitch, who came third with 22% of the vote, to withdraw from the race to help Ferrand beat his FN opponent, but she refused and will still stand on Sunday.

On Wednesday, Arkilovitch’s deputy (all French candidates are obliged to have a stand-in) broke ranks and publicly called for her constituents to vote UMP to keep Maréchal Le Pen from winning, citing the “Republican Front”, a tacit agreement between the main parties to do everything to keep the FN from getting parliamentary seats.

‘Neither left, nor FN’

On the UMP side, there were visible cracks in the “Republican Front”, with a number of conservative candidates either appealing to FN voters or throwing their support behind far-right rivals in a bid to defeat the left.

While party leader Jean-François Copé warned that there could be “no alliance with the FN”, he refused to urge UMP supporters to rally behind left-wing candidates engaged in duels with the far right, opting instead for a “neither left, nor FN” policy.

Ignoring Copé’s instructions, the UMP candidate in the Bouches-du-Rhone region, third-placed Roland Chassin, withdrew from the second round and urged his supporters to vote out Socialist candidate Michel Vauzelle – effectively handing the advantage to the FN’s Valérie Laupies, who took 29% of the first-round vote against Vauzelle's 38%.

In the Gard – the only region where Marine Le Pen came top in the first round of the presidential election in April  – the FN’s Gilbert Collard is in the lead in his constituency while the UMP’s Etienne Mourrut, who came third, announced Wednesday that he would keep running only after “long consideration”.

Before June’s parliamentary elections, Mourrut caused a stir by speaking to far-right newspaper “Minute” in which he said that “one only has to read my propositions to see that I am closer to Marine Le Pen than to the PS.”

In the Moselle region of north-eastern France, Florian Philippot, spokesman for the “Bleu-Marine” alliance of far-right parties that is dominated by the FN, came first in one constituency with 26.3% and was confident of getting a seat in the Assembly come Sunday.

Date created : 2012-06-13


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