Expatica (Haarlem, Netherlands), March 14, 2007
Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French far-right, is certain to take part in next month’s presidential election after collecting the 500 necessary sponsors, his National Front (FN) party said Wednesday.
But a host of extremist and fringe candidates face a desperate race against the clock to get the necessary signatures before a Friday deadline.
FN secretary general Louis Aliot said Le Pen, 78, would in person deliver the sponsorship forms on Wednesday to the Constitutional Council, the body in charge of running the election.
Under rules designed to weed out frivolous candidacies, challengers for the French presidency must have the public backing of 500 out of some 42,000 elected officials, including the country’s 36,500 mayors as well as parliamentary deputies and local and regional councillors.
Le Pen had complained of difficulties collecting the signatures, saying that many mayors feared retribution if they supported him.
After founding the far-right party in 1972, the former paratrooper has been a candidate in every presidential election since 1974—except in 1981 when he failed to obtain the 500 sponsorships.
Le Pen was surprise runner-up in the 2002 election, when he won 16.86 percent of the first-round vote, ahead of the socialist Lionel Jospin. An Ipsos poll Wednesday gave him 13 percent of the first-round vote on April 22.
Last week the right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy said it would be “undemocratic” if Le Pen—as well as candidates from the far-left—were excluded from the vote.
He urged non-aligned mayors to provide Le Pen with signatures in order to ensure his participation.
The deadline for the signatures to be filed falls on Friday, and the official list of candidates will be published on Monday.
Nine candidates seem certain of qualifying, and four others might be able to.
The definites are Sarkozy, Le Pen, the socialist Segolene Royal, the centrist Francois Bayrou, the communist Marie-George Buffet, the Catholic nationalist Philippe de Villiers, Gerard Schivardi of the Trotskyist Worker’s Party, Arlette Laguiller of the Trotskyist Workers’ Struggle and the Green Party’s Dominique Voynet.
Possibles are Olivier Besancenot of the Communist Revolutionary League (LCR), the anti-capitalist campaigner Jose Bove, Frederic Nihous of the hunters’ party and maverick Gaullist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan.
In 2002 16 candidates took part, a record in modern French politics. The large number helped reduce the score of the leading contenders and was a factor in Le Pen’s shock first round success.
He has been convicted for minimizing the Holocaust and warning that France risks being overrun by Muslims. But as he embarks on his fifth and likely last bid for the presidency, far-right nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen doesn’t want to dwell on such remarks.
“Monsieur, if we are here only to talk about that, then I consider this interview is over,” the 78-year-old former paratrooper snapped when The Associated Press pressed him about comments that have repeatedly landed him in court.
While Le Pen still blames immigration for many of France’s ills, he is trying to soften his image as he seeks to repeat his success of 2002, when he stunned Europe by finishing ahead of the mainstream Socialist candidate and earning a runoff with incumbent President Jacques Chirac.
Polls say Francois Bayrou, a farmer and lawmaker claiming the middle ground of France’s traditional left-right divide, is for the now the biggest threat to the mainstream candidates—Socialist Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy of the governing right.
Le Pen is running fourth. But pollsters say the socially conservative Le Pen should not be counted out.
But he is as unbending as ever on immigration, and he still wants to pull France out of Europe’s Schengen zone, which allows the free flow of people and goods across borders.
In the AP interview Tuesday night, he revisited heated language against Muslims that has already landed him a conviction for inciting racial hatred.
“I think that massive immigration originating from the Third World, that has led 10 million foreigners to enter our country over 30 years—it’s not the only problem that France faces, it’s the main problem,” Le Pen said.
Experts say many Le Pen voters are aging, and they come from across France’s social divides.
His base is “an old France that is afraid of change, afraid of Europe, afraid of multiculturalism,” said Nonna Mayer, an expert at Paris’ prestigious Sciences Po school.
“What holds them all together is their fear of immigration, foreigners—‘people who are not like us’—and their demand for more repression, law and order and a return to the death penalty. That hasn’t changed over the past 20 years.”
Le Pen said his problem is not with newcomers, but with the immigration policies of French governments left, right and center of the past three decades.
“We are only now noticing . . . the start of a phenomenon that if we don’t plug it up will submerge our continent,” he said.
In the interview, he dismissed that case as “ridiculous,” and insisted he is not racist or xenophobic. “We are pro-French,” he said.