A former minister of Algerian origin who was knocked out of the race for parliament lamented on Tuesday that French voters were not “quite ready” to elect minorities to the National Assembly.
“Let’s be frank. I think the French people are not quite ready to vote for candidates that they consider foreigners,” Azouz Begag told French radio.
Begag, who ran for the centrist Democratic Movement party, failed to win enough votes in the first round to stand in Sunday’s runoff in his constituency of Lyon, France’s second city.
A former minister for equal opportunities who was born in France to Algerian parents, Begag said he was the target of racist comments during his campaign in Lyon.
He caused a sensation in April when he quit the rightwing government to join the presidential campaign of centrist Francois Bayrou and published a book in which he charged that Nicolas Sarkozy had threatened to “smash” his face in.
A record number of candidates from France’s Arab and black minorities ran for seats in the first round on Sunday and a dozen qualified for the runoff.
Among those who stood a chance of winning a seat were Algerian-born cardiologist Salem Kacet in the northern region of Roubaix and Caribbean-born lawyer George-Paul Langevin, who is running as a Socialist in one of the Paris seats.
None of the outgoing deputies in the 555 seats from mainland France are from visible minorities even though France is home to Europe’s biggest Muslim community of about five million.
Promoting diversity in politics became an issue in France after the 2005 riots in the immigrant-heavy suburbs, where descendants of north African and African immigrants complain they are shut out of mainstream society.