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New poll shows far right could squeeze out Sarkozy

A new poll in France puts far-right leader Marine Le Pen (pictured) ahead of President Sarkozy in next year’s presidential race, reviving fears of a repeat of the shocking 2002 election results which saw the far right come second.


Exactly nine years ago far-right's Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked the French establishment by coming in second in the 2002 presidential elections. Now his daughter is on track to repeat history, according to a new French poll.

France's president is elected by direct voting for a five-year term.

Presidential elections have historically been organised into two rounds. If no candidate wins more than half of all ballots in the first round, voters must pick between the two top candidates in a run-off.

The first round of the next presidential elections in France will be held in April 22, 2012, with a run-off on May 6 if necessary.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigration National Front (FN), is projected to win enough votes to knock out President Nicolas Sarkozy from the second round of next year’s all important 2012 presidential election, the French daily Le Parisien's revealed on Thursday.

French presidential elections are organised into two rounds, with the two top vote winners of the first round advancing to a runoff.

Marine Le Pen, who took over the far-right party from her father in January, is ahead of all other potential candidates with the exception of French Socialist and International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The poll, conducted by the French polling agency Harris Interactive, spells bad news for Sarkozy. The president would only advance to the second round if the candidate representing the main opposition Socialist Party were Segolene Royal, a former presidential candidate.

The famed “April 21” date still haunts many in France. It was on that day in 2002, that the National Front’s firebrand leader Jean-Marie Le Pen knocked out the Socialist candidate from the presidential race, setting up a runoff against former president Jacques Chirac.

Jean-Marie Le Pen eventually lost to Chirac and the FN’s popularity floundered in the following years, but the far right party has experienced a resurgence under Marine Le Pen, who is seen as more modern and less divisive than her father.

Premature polls

The poll confirmed a previous Le Parisien survey conducted in early March that gave Le Pen a considerable head start over Sarkozy, and even a small edge on IMF boss Strauss-Kahn. The March survey said Le Pen would gather 24% of French votes, beating Strauss-Kahn’s 23% and Sarkozy’s 20%.

In Thursday’s survey Strauss-Kahn climbed to 30% and Le Pen dipped down to 21%. Either way, the figures makes Le Pen a credible candidate in the 2012 race.

However, according to Jean-Yves Camus, political scientist at French Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), the poll is a poor indicator of the final results. The figures could change drastically once - and if - Strauss-Kahn and Sarkozy dive headfirst into the elections, Camus said.

While Strauss-Kahn’s candidature has been gathering momentum among opponents of Sarkozy, Strauss-Kahn himself has remained tight-lipped about his intention to run. The Socialists will not know who their candidate is until after their candidates square off in the much-anticipated, and potentially bruising, primaries in October.

President Sarkozy has also not officially announced his candidature. He is nonetheless expected to seek a second term and to mount a characteristically aggressive campaign to win back his core conservative constituency and avoid splintering the centre-right vote.

While all eyes are on Le Pen and the new-found confidence among France’s far right, her bid for next year’s election has not been insured either. Under French law she needs the signature of at least 150 mayors before she can present herself as a candidate.

IRIS’ Camus thinks she will succeed in attaining the endorsements, but still faces an uphill struggle to keep her poll numbers up. “She was the first candidate to start campaigning,” Camus explains. “But she will need to stay in the news and find something new to say everyday for the next 13 months, and that is not easy.”

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