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France

Poll shows French far right beating main presidential candidates

media Marine Le Pen, 5 March 2011 AFP/Philippe Huguen

A poll published Tuesday shows the leader of the French far right National Front party, Marine Le Pen, beating any of the other likely candidates – on the left or the right – in the first round of next year’s presidential election. The survey shows the strength of Le Pen, who took over the party from her father in January, and it reveals divisions in the main French parties.

The survey - the second since Sunday - conducted by Harris Interactive and published in the Le Parisien newspaper, shows that Marine Le Pen would win 24 per cent of the vote in the first round, ahead of any candidate, whether President Nicolas Sarkozy, who will likely run for a second term, or any of the Socialist candidates.

But who ends up running against Le Pen in the second round depends on the Socialist candidate, according to the poll.

If former party leader Francois Hollande runs, the survey shows he would come in third, behind Le Pen and Sarkozy, who would then face off in the second round. If Dominique Strauss Kahn is the Socialist candidate, however, he would beat Sarkozy with 23 per cent of the vote, and make it into the second round.

And whoever moves into the second round against Le Pen will likely win the presidency, which is what happened in 2002 when Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, beat the Socialist Lionel Jospin, and made it into the second round against Jacques Chriac. Chirac then won the presidency with an overwhelming majority.

This survey has sent Sarkozy’s right-wing UMP party and the Socialist party scurrying to rethink their campaign strategies 14 months before the elections.

The rise of Marine Le Pen shows that Sarkozy may not have done enough to keep the far-right voters he wooed in the 2006 presidential election.

Besides changing political tactics, Sarkozy may have to consider making peace with Dominique de Villepin, a former Prime Minister who broke from Sarkozy's UMP and started his own centre-right party, Republique Solidaire, which polled at four or five per cent in this survey.

Villepin was invited to the Elysee presidential palace Monday for a second visit in ten days. Speaking to reporters afterwards, he said the President had made no proposals to him, and that there was “no ambiguity” between them.

Another candidate to look out for is Francois Bayrou of the centrist MoDem who, in the survey with Hollande as the Socialist candidate, came in fourth with eight per cent. In the survey with Strauss-Kahn as the Socialist candidate, Bayrou drops below the Greens and the left-wing Front de gauche.

There is much speculation on who will be the Socialist candidate. Some warn that a primary election, planned for October, would guarantee a loss for the party.

But whoever the candidate, the survey shows a low score for the party, which usually wins 28-30 per cent of the vote. This survey gives Strauss-Kahn 24 per cent, and Hollande 20 per cent.

A reason for the low percentage for the Socialists is the number of left-wing candidates, which some say was the reason Jospin lost in the first round of the 2002 election.

In this survey, the Green party, represented by Eva Joly, wins seven per cent, Olivier Besanscenot’s left-wing NPA party gets six per cent, and Jean-Luc Melenchon’s left-wing Front de Gauche gets six or seven per cent, depending on the Socialist candidate – a total of 19 or 20 per cent for non-Socialist parties on the left.

Indeed, the Greens may have to consider not fielding a candidate if polls a year from now show the same result for the National Front.

“It’s clear that an ecologist candidate would not be justified,” Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit said in an interview with the Le Figaro newspaper on Monday.

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