Marine Le Pen, head of France's far-right National Front party, is poised to beat President Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of next year's presidential election with 23 percent of votes, according to an opinion poll published Saturday.
REUTERS - Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front party, would beat President Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of a presidential election next year, an opinion poll showed on Saturday.
The survey by Harris Interactive, published on the website of Le Parisien daily, showed Le Pen winning 23 percent of votes in the first of the election's two voting rounds, versus 21 percent for the centre-right president.
Sarkozy has not announced whether he will run for re-election, but his party and Prime Minister Francois Fillon are promoting him as the natural choice for a candidate.
With his approval rating at a record low, Sarkozy has launched a national debate on Islam's role in French society that pollsters say is part of a plan to neutralise Le Pen.
The blonde Le Pen has become more popular since she took over the National Front party from her father, Jean-Marie, in January and compared Muslims to an "occupying force" in France.
Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked much of France when he beat former prime minister Lionel Jospin in the first round of a 2002 election. He lost to Jacques Chirac in the final round.
"This poll makes me believe that Nicolas Sarkozy will lose this presidential election," Marine Le Pen said at a news conference in northern France.
Former UMP spokesman Dominique Paille said there was no guarantee Sarkozy's party would make it to the second round.
"This should make us realise the fact that we need a candidate to carry our colours, because of course the risk of being absent from the second round is real," he told BFM news channel.
No margin of error was published for the poll, conducted between Feb. 28 and March 3 with 1,618 people aged 18 and up.